Friday, August 12, 2005

ATH: Donovan bushed

Landon running on empty
By Paul Oberjuerge, Staff Writer, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.com

CARSON - Landon Donovan is worn down. Bushed. Approaching burnout.
He knew being the Face of American Soccer was a burden.

But the way 2005 has gone, holy smokes. The Face is about to fall on his.

"I wish I had more energy," he said after the Los Angeles Galaxy's practice session Tuesday, looking about as weary as a supremely fit 23-year-old man can look.

Donovan, the clever forward/midfielder, is overcommitted. Overused. Maybe even overexposed. In the name of a game that is overly dependent on him.

He is the linchpin of the U.S. national soccer team, which of late seems nearly helpless without him on the pitch.

He is the marquee attraction of Major League Soccer, which is paying him $900,000 this season, $225,000 more than anyone else. In a league where only 15 guys make $200,000 or more.

He is the Galaxy's be all and end all. Their leading scorer (despite missing eight of their 21 matches) and focal point of their marketing campaign. The guy who gets nearly half the club's $2 million payroll.

Donovan also is the U.S. game's poster boy. The go-to guy for corporate pitchmen, the media and all those fans for whom he patiently signs autographs.

Actually, his work load can be summed up in three words: out of control.

Donovan played six matches with the national team in 17 days last month during the marginally significant Gold Cup. Including 120 minutes vs. Panama in the title match at steamy East Rutherford, where he calmly put away the clinching penalty kick.

Three days later, he played for the Galaxy at New England. Three days after that he played for the MLS all-stars at Columbus.

On July 31, 34 days after the Redlands native left his Manhattan Beach home, Donovan returned to Southern California. And played a match three days later.

"I'm just tired," he said. "I just get mentally tired.

"It takes all my energy just to be ready for the game every three or four days. In practice I'm just kind of out of it, and even at home I'm tired and I just sleep all the time."

He isn't whining. He knows all this is his job.

It's not as if American soccer has a half-dozen Landon Donovans to share the load. Neither as a symbol nor as a player.

He is The Man. Somewhere far after him is Everybody Else, and a lot of them are in Europe.

"That comes with the territory," Galaxy coach Steve Sampson said of Donovan's work load. "He wanted to come back (from Germany) to make an impact, and this is what comes with it. ... And sometimes that means lifting yourself up even when you're tired."

That said, Sampson added that Donovan will not start tonight vs. Chivas USA in a 7 p.m. match at the Coliseum.

"The reason for that is that I think we're better off with him being sharp for 30-45 minutes than to pace himself for 90 and expect him to do that every Wednesday and Saturday," Sampson said.

He added that he and Bruce Arena, Donovan's club and national coach, respectively, need to do a better job of conserving U.S. soccer's national treasure.

"Landon has to be managed better between Bruce and myself," Sampson said. "We have to find some compromise somehow so this young man can have his legs back."

Both mean well. But both would like to keep their jobs, and each has a better lineup with the quick, savvy and goal-producing Donovan in it.

Said Donovan: "At times, Steve will say, `I want to make sure you get a lot of rest.' As I'm leaving for the national team, `Make sure Bruce gets you rest.' But then I get to Bruce, he's, like, `Well I need you now, but when you get back there, make sure you get rest.'‚"

Donovan chuckled softly. "It's their job and their livelihood and they both do a pretty good job of it. But it's tiring."

If Donovan's Soccer Messiah tendencies weren't so pronounced, he might already have demanded time off. But this is a guy who will do almost anything for the American game. Including run himself into the ground.

He has led the national team in minutes played every year since 2002. Since 2003, he also has led in goals and assists. He has made 70 appearances for the United States, including 61 of a possible 65 since 2002.

He plays in his 101st MLS game tonight. And that doesn't include exhibitions or U.S. Open Cup matches.

Donovan was talking about sleep. How much he relishes it. "I'd sleep a lot more if I could," he said. "I can sleep easily 10-12 hours a day. If I could."

Ah, but no rest for the weary. Unless you count the first half and change of the Galaxy match tonight.

There is the game at Chicago on Saturday, the day before Donovan rejoins the U.S. team to prepare for a World Cup qualifier next Wednesday in Hartford vs. Trinidad & Tobago. The Galaxy play at D.C. United three days later.

Donovan almost certainly will be asked to play on the MLS all-star team going to Spain to play Real Madrid on Aug. 23. Meaning Donovan could be stateside in plenty of time for the Galaxy's match at San Jose on Aug. 27. Before he turns around and goes back to Columbus to play for the United States against Mexico in a Sept. 3 World Cup qualifier ...

"I've literally played every Wednesday and Saturday for two months," he said Tuesday. "One month more. Then it should calm down."

It better.

U.S. soccer has only one superstar, and he's on the verge of collapse. Until it comes up with another Landon Donovan or three. it better take better care of the one it has.

Paul Oberjuerge's column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

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