Donovan provides the drama, MLS stars get the win
Landon Donovan wasn't good enough to make the U.S. World Cup team. At least, that's the way coach Jurgen Klinsmann saw it.
But Donovan was good enough Wednesday night to enter the Major League Soccer All-Star game in the second half, score the winning goal and walk off the field, saluting a sellout Providence Park crowd as the fans rewarded him with a standing ovation.
That's star quality.
"We're all happy for Landon," teammate Michael Bradley said after the MLS stars' 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich. "He is such a good guy, and everybody enjoys talking and spending time with him.
"What he has been able to accomplish on the field throughout his career speaks for itself. It doesn't surprise you anymore when he comes on the field, plays 20 minutes and walks off with a goal."
Donovan is the face of U.S. men's soccer, the all-time leading scorer for the national team, the most-decorated player in MLS history. On Wednesday night, the 32-year-old forward for the Los Angeles Galaxy was playing in a record 14th straight All-Star Game, having started the string as a rookie in 2001.
While Galaxy teammates Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez were removed from the All-Star Game in order to prepare for a league match against San Jose on Friday, there was no way Donovan was going to sit it out. But concessions were made as MLS coach Caleb Porter -- the Timbers' coach -- and Galaxy coach Bruce Arena arranged a deal beforehand.
"There was an understanding I'd play 20 or 25 minutes and Caleb would get me out of there," Donovan said. "It worked out well."
Did it ever.
The 5-8 Donovan -- boy, did he look small as he met with reporters afterward -- entered the game five minutes into the second half to a raucous ovation. Twenty minutes later, as if on cue, Donovan scored on a pretty feed from the Timbers' Diego Valeri for the game-winner. After a brief celebration, he was removed from the game by Porter to another thunderous cheer from the Providence Park partisans.
Who wrote the script, Francis Ford Coppola?
"I've scored more meaningful goals," Donovan allowed, "but that was a lot of fun."
Then Donovan slipped into his ambassador's role -- first for the city of Portland in staging its first MLS All-Star Game, then for the league itself.
"The week's been fantastic," he said. "The guys responded well. Caleb did an excellent job getting us prepared. The city put on a great show. This was a good way to culminate all of that. Everyone should feel proud of what happened this week."
After scoring his goal, Donovan pulled on his "MLS" patch as the television cameras honed in.
"I'm proud to be a part of this league," he said. "For many years, those of us were looked down upon for staying and playing here. This was a big moment for our league."
Not as big as it could have been. Bayern Munich is one of the premier sides in the world, the most successful club in German soccer history. Six players on its roster were members of the German team that won the World Cup.
None of them started Wednesday's game, however, all working back into active duty after Germany's 1-0 victory over Argentina in the July 13 World Cup final.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer came in early in the second half, and the other five put in cameo roles, entering in the 80th minute.
Bradley and Donovan both told me that didn't detract from the MLS victory.
"Not at all," Bradley said. "Those guys have been on vacation for three weeks. You couldn't have expected them to play more than that."
"We understand the game doesn't count for anything," Donovan offered. "We know Bayern are in their preseason and their best players didn't play.
"They were still competitive. Those guys wanted to win, just like we did. Any time you can get a result like that, it's good, no matter what the circumstances."
(Let me digress for a moment. Soccer types have the habit of referring to singular nouns such as Bayern with plural verbs. Bayern is in "its" preseason, not "their.")
And I beg to differ with both Bradley and Donovan about the missing Germans. The triumph would have been much more impressive had Bayern been at full strength. The lads who did play were skilled but not very forceful.
A knowledgeable media type sitting next to me in the press box said they regarded the game as a "workout." That might have been overstating it. But there didn't seem to be much sense of urgency, even if Bayern coach "Pep" Guardiola was a lout afterward, refusing to shake Porter's hand as is customary.
On the other hand, it was a great event for Portland's soccer fans, who love their sport with unusual passion. Donovan reflected back to the difference today from his first MLS All-Star appearance in San Jose in 2001.
"I enjoyed this week quite a bit," he said. "The fans are great here. In San Jose, we'd walk out of the hotel and walk around the city and nobody knew who you were. Here, there are people waiting around the lobby, standing outside, following guys everywhere, getting autographs.
"They all watched the World Cup this summer. The game has changed so much, and I'm really proud I can be a part of it."
Indeed, Providence Park fans treated all of the players with reverence, and the German World Cuppers as rock stars. There were plenty of fans sporting red Bayern Munich sweaters, enough to fill most of three sections of the stands.
They might have left a bit disappointed, but their team lost, fair and square. In the 11 years that the MLS stars have played an international opponent, they've gone 7-4.
"It was a real game," Donovan said. "There's no two ways about it, a real soccer game. It was fun to be a part of. I'm glad the format is this way. It makes it fun for all of us. The fans enjoy it better, too."
And the guy who wasn't quite good enough to play for his country in the World Cup provided the drama. Coppola couldn't have written a better script.