Landon Donovan returned to MLS action last night, but not as many of us have become accustomed to seeing him. Last night, Donovan took to the sideline as head coach of the MLS Homegrown squad. While Donovan and his time did not end on an ideal note, there were still plenty of positives to take away from this experience. The MLS Homegrown team fell in penalty kicks to the Club América U-20’s. Despite the loss, the experience was a positive one.
The experience of coaching was exciting and different to say the least for Landon Donovan. There is a certain anxiety that comes with not being able to take the field, as you have done for the majority of your life. It is surely a difficult transition for former players, especially those with the accomplishments of Donovan. Attacking the game from the bench proved to be quite an adjustment, but as the game moved forward, he started to settle into his new position. Donovan admitted to the old anxious and nervous feelings experienced when he was playing, feelings he was certainly excited to experience.
Donovan aside, the game was fun to watch. These types of quickly organized games can only yield a certain degree of beautiful soccer. The MLS Homegrowns had maybe a couple days together. The Club América youth squad has years under the belts playing together. Not exactly an ideal scenario for the MLS players, but an educational experience nonetheless. Aside from scoreline, Club América outplayed the Homegrowns in several columns. Possession favored Club América, roughly 60% to 40%, as did total shots (11-6).
Though losing is never fun, it can offer a wealth of experience and educational opportunities. Donovan is well aware of how MLS talent has changed in the last decade. Club América is a very good club team, and the Mexican League has been known to have strong development academies. According to Donovan, having Homegrown MLS players running toe to toe with Club América players just did not happen a decade ago. Seeing this type of progress is exciting and instills hope.
We could also see an experience like this translate to the international stage. If these players are truly able to continue pushing and breaking into the first team, one could easily see a few of these guys earning minutes with the US Men’s National Team. As Donovan mentioned, “With the national team you play Sunday, you come in Monday, you’re playing Wednesday, it’s valuable to have experiences like this.” Opportunities like this are invaluable, so let’s hope that Major League Soccer continues to facilitate these types of games, and more importantly, continue investing in its youth development.