- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2005

American star Landon Donovan took some flak recently when he abandoned his career in Germany after less than three months and returned to Major League Soccer.

Critics said Donovan, 23, couldn’t make it with the big boys in Europe, that he was a mama’s boy and missed his actress girlfriend, Bianca Kajlich, in Los Angeles. Others said it set a bad precedent that would make foreign clubs wary of signing Americans.

You can’t blame a few fans for being upset. Upon his return from Bayer Leverkusen, the two-time U.S. player of the year joined up with the fashionable Los Angeles Galaxy and not his old team, the San Jose Earthquakes.

Donovan helped San Jose win two titles (2001, 2003), and when the Earthquakes bid farewell to him at the end of last season, they didn’t expect to see him wearing the shirt of their archrivals after a short detour in Germany.

Still, MLS commissioner Don Garber assured that Donovan’s return was a “very transparent and clean deal.”

Regardless, it’s great for MLS to have Donovan back. In his debut last week for the Galaxy before a sellout crowd of 27,000 at the Home Depot Center, America’s golden boy scored twice and set up a third goal in the 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake. MLS certainly welcomes Donovan’s star power.

And it’s obvious Donovan doesn’t have to conquer Europe to prove himself. After all, he helped lead the Americans to the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup, scoring two goals when he was just 20.

Sometimes players feel obliged to go overseas to prove a point.

Liverpool’s prolific striker, Ian Rush, scored 169 goals in 274 games in the 1980s before a big-dollar move to Italian giant Juventus. Rush had a rotten time in Italy, notching just seven goals in 29 games. He came home and became a star again, scoring another 182 goals for the Reds in more than 350 games.

Commenting on overseas experience — and without tongue in cheek — Rush said, “I couldn’t settle in Italy — it was like living in a foreign country.”

So welcome home, Landon, but be prepared to get an earful June 25 in San Jose from fans who are convinced the whole affair was planned.

United crashes — You could say it was one of D.C. United’s biggest games ever. A win over UNAM Pumas would send the MLS champions to the final of the CONCACAF Championship. Win that and United would have booked a spot at the FIFA Club World Tournament in Japan in December, with the world as its stage.

But it all went horribly wrong in a 5-0 loss in Mexico City on Wednesday, and some of coach Peter Nowak’s moves seem questionable. He started rookie Nick Van Sicklen over veteran Steve Guppy and made no changes at the break with the team under siege.

It was the first 5-0 loss in the club’s history and equaled its worst previous defeat, 6-1 by the Kansas City Wizards in 1997.

F.A. Cup semis — London giant Arsenal faces American goalie Brad Friedel’s Blackburn Rovers today in a semifinal of the F.A. Cup at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Premier League scoring leader Thierry Henry of Arsenal will miss the match because of a groin injury.

Tomorrow fellow American goalie Tim Howard will lead Manchester United against Newcastle in the other semifinal at the same venue. Millennium Stadium was chosen for both semifinals because it is the largest neutral venue and allows each club to bring at least 30,000 fans to the game. The Blackburn-Arsenal match will be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel at 7 a.m.

Champions League — There will be a Premier League club in the Champions League final in Istanbul in May and maybe an American player, too.

Chelsea plays Liverpool in the semifinals, and America’s DaMarcus Beasley will attempt to get PSV Eindhoven past A.C. Milan in the other game. This is PSV’s first semifinal in the big event since 1988, when it won Europe’s top title under current coach Gus Hiddink.

Corner kicks — MLS reached a tentative agreement this week to put an expansion team in San Antonio next season. …

Inter Milan has been fined $248,424 and will play its next four European games behind closed doors after fans threw flares on the field in Tuesday’s Champions League match with AC Milan. European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, also ruled that AC Milan won as a 3-0 forfeit, with the team advancing 5-0 on total goals. …

The D.C. United reserves beat the Chicago Fire reserves 4-1 Sunday morning at RFK Stadium’s auxiliary field. The 12-game reserve schedule for each MLS team is new this season, thanks partly to Adidas’ $150 million sponsorship.

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