Donovan silences critics for now

March, 25, 2007
Having just watched the U.S. team impress in taking apart a dangerous Ecuador team, here are my quick initial thoughts:

1. Landon Donovan showed again why he continues to be a focal point of so much debate among the soccer diehards in this country. I'll state the obvious -- today Donovan was the star of the show. His hat trick was of the highest quality and against "serious" competition in Ecuador, not a weak CONCACAF minnow. In fact, if Donovan hadn't been robbed of a blatant penalty call (a free kick outside the box was given instead), he'd have probably scored four.

When Donovan plays like this, he effectively shuts up his critics (myself included) but of course it begs the inevitable question as to why he doesn't deliver like this on a more consistent basis.

It could be that we are beginning to see a new Donovan, one that's more mature, focused and locked in after last year's World Cup disappointment. The last few years, Donovan had appeared to play more passively and seemed less willing to run at people -- forgoing the style that he had displayed so effectively at the 2002 World Cup. Judging by the way he's performed in the last two internationals, it seems that he's back to playing aggressively and that's when he's at his best

2. As brilliant as Donovan's performance was -- and make no mistake it was brilliant -- did Bruce Arena really just compare Donovan to Michael Jordan? Arena remarked on air that while coaching Donovan the last few years, he felt that he could relate to how Phil Jackson must have felt when coaching MJ. OK, that's a stretch to say the least. Enough said.

3. It's just one game but Benny Feilhaber and Michael Bradley look like the central midfield partnership of the future for the U.S. Both have high technical quality and the ability to play a two-way style and link the defense with the offense. When you add Ricardo Clark to the mix, I think you're looking at the three key central midfielders for the U.S. in the 2010 World Cup.

4. The Bob Bradley campaign continues to mount. If the U.S. keeps winning under Bradley, it's going to be awfully hard for USSF president Sunil Gulati not to make Bradley the full-time coach. If Gulati's rumored interest in the hugely overrated pair of Carlos Queiroz and Gerard Houllier is in fact true, I hope for the U.S. national team's sake that Bradley is the choice. It's one thing to opt for a Juergen Klinsmann or a Guus Hiddink, but given their unavailability, Bradley is looking more and more like the best option at this point.

Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to in 2005.


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