Washington Babylon — June 21, 2010, 8:53 am

Mea Culpa: Landon Donovan Not Hateable

OK, OK, I have been convinced by readers that I was unfair to Landon Donovan. However, I still think he should never have claimed after the 2-2 draw with Solvenia that the referee had “stolen” the game. The referee made a bad call in denying the American goal but also a bad call on the foul against Slovenia beforehand that led to the free kick setting up the goal. So if the U.S. goal had been allowed, Slovenia could have argued just as strongly that it had the game “stolen” by a bad call.

Coach Bob Bradley probably put his finger on it when he said, “There are times when a referee, for whatever reason, blows a foul and now thinks either he didn’t make the correct call on the foul or from a previous play, and then literally as soon as the free kick’s taken, he blows his whistle.”

There have been a lot of bad calls during the Cup — though only the one against the U.S. led the media to accuse the referee of high crimes and misdemeanors — but in the end referees generally don’t cause a team to win or lose. The U.S. didn’t win because it fell behind Slovenia 2-0 and had to dig out of a hole, not because of the refereeing, so stop all the whining and move on.

As to reader email, here are excerpts from a few:

Beau Dure:

I’m guessing that you’re reading rather than hearing or seeing Donovan’s comments. I’ve interviewed him countless times since 2000, and one thing he does not do is throw a tantrum…He’s also right, at least most of the time. He’s right about the Slovenia game.

I can’t argue too much with your critique of the U.S. team in general, and by extension, the U.S. talent pool. It is somewhat astounding that a country of 300 million can’t come up with more than one or two field players of Donovan and Dempsey’s quality. (Goalkeepers, on the other hand, are usually in surplus.) But Donovan’s correct in saying not too many teams could’ve done what they did against Slovenia. The old saw that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous in soccer is absolutely untrue, especially in the World Cup. Teams just don’t come back from that, especially when every break and every call is going against them. (Before Slovenia’s goal, we had the phantom handball in the box on Robbie Findley that stopped a terrific scoring chance in its tracks.)

Donovan’s an interesting guy. He’s self-critical to a fault and refreshingly honest.

Michael Miller:

As a fellow journalist, I am a very big fan of your incisive writing and reporting. On the issue of hating the American soccer team, however, I think you have your wires crossed.

Strangely enough, it is a debate I often have with my 65-year-old Marxist historian father who, with U.S. imperial politics clearly on display in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, never fails to root against the Yanks come the World Cup.

But to treat the U.S. team – let alone its captain, Landon Donovan – as a figurehead for American empire is silly. Quoting U.S. and Slovenia’s GDP simply obscures the fact that on soccer terms, the two are very much alike (unlike Brazil and North Korea, ranked 105th in the world). Slovenia is ranked a mere 11 spots below the U.S., while Algeria – Team USA’s next opponents – are 16 spots below the Americans. In fact, this tiny standard of deviation makes Group C – not Brazil’s group – one of the tournament’s most competitive.

It seems to me as if you would have it both ways, pointing out that England is not the SOCCER superpower it once was, but resorting to geo-political metrics to shame those who would root for the Americans.

One comment: I don’t view soccer or any sport through the lens of politics. I root against the U.S. team because, among other reasons, they don’t play soccer very well, they whine a lot, and I am repelled by the gung-ho patriotic media coverage.

Random World Cup observation: I feel sorry for Honduras, which Spain is likely to pummel today. England, France, and Italy have looked awful thus far and appear to be mediocre teams. Spain looked great against Switzerland but just had bad luck, and it should take out its frustrations on Honduras this afternoon. Spain should still get through to the second round. If it does it would play Brazil or Portugal in the quarterfinals, which, either way, would be one of the best games in the Cup.

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