Will a pissed-off Landon Donovan eat the Union alive on Sunday? Our sources say yes

Will a pissed-off Landon Donovan eat the Union alive on Sunday? Our sources say yes

United States' Landon Donovan, controls the ball during a training session on Wednesday at Stanford. (AP Photo)

We’re back for another installment of the Second Level, where Philadelphia Union writers and old newspaper buddies Steve Moore and Dave Zeitlin discuss and sometimes argue about a Union-related topic every week.

As someone who covers the team for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com, Dave will bring you the perspective of a seasoned, award-winning journalist. And as someone who watches games from the River End While drinking a beer, Steve will bring you the perspective of an occasionally sober fan.

This week’s question: what does Maurice Edu and Landon Donovan getting cut from the U.S. World Cup team mean for Sunday’s Union-Galaxy game (8 p.m., Comcast SportsNet?)

DAVE: We’ll dive into the bigger picture of Thursday’s stunning roster announcement shortly, but as far as this weekend goes, I’ll call it a wash.

Yes, Donovan is a better player than Edu and could be angry enough about his shocking snub to torch the Union for a few goals. But assuming he does play, I have a feeling he might be a bit distracted knowing that his friends are preparing to go to Brazil while he’s taking the field opposite Leo Fernandes in Carson. Let’s remember this is a guy that took some time off last year because he was burnt out. How much passion will he have now that he knows that his international career is almost certainly over?

Edu, too, will naturally be gutted that he failed to make his second straight World Cup. But after falling out of the national team picture for a while, he had to have prepared himself for this possibility. You could even say that just making the initial 30-man roster was an accomplishment for Edu and could leave him refreshed as he continues his career revival in MLS.

Either way, the Union could certainly use Edu in the midfield Sunday with Cristian Maidana suspended and Brian Carroll on the mend from a groin injury. And his teammates seem eager to have him back.

 

Now on to the HOLY-CRAP-LANDON-DONOVAN-ACTUALLY-ISN’T-GOING-TO-PLAY-IN-THE-WORLD-CUP discussion – which is still hard to believe.

Yes, arguably the greatest American soccer player that’s ever lived, the one that’s scored five goals in the last three World Cups, wasn’t deemed good enough to make the 23-man roster.

We don’t need to get into the guys who somehow made the team in front of him, except to say that U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann made some puzzling choices. The point is this: even if he’s 32 and slowing down, even if he’s not the player he once was, even if you just use him off the bench, even if you just keep him in the locker room for karma's sake, you find a way to get Landon Donovan on the plane to Brazil.

How absurd is it that Donovan won’t be playing in his fourth straight World Cup? Grant Wahl sums it up pretty nicely in this piece, in which he delves into the rocky relationship between Klinsmann and Donovan while passing along two telling quotes. The first, from goalkeeper Tim Howard: “For me, it’s a very easy equation: If he’s on the field, he’s our top one or two players.” The second, from Galaxy and former USMNT coach Bruce Arena: “If there are 23 better players than Landon, then we have a chance to win the World Cup.”

So good news, America! We have a chance to win the World Cup now!

Now, Steve, talk me off the ledge while I curl up into a ball and watch this video of the world reacting to Landon Donovan scoring one of the greatest goals in U.S. soccer history four years ago.

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/jbn3rOPmR9w width=620 height=349]

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STEVE: Having Edu back will surely help the Union. When they signed him last winter, I highly doubt the team anticipated Edu getting invited to camp, let alone going to Brazil. So, privately, they have to be relieved. There are some out there who have been underwhelmed by Edu this season. I'm not one of them. He's had some games better than others, but he is a force in the midfield, and the Union are far better with him in there.

Now, onto the real story (which led the Inquirer sports page today, in case you're one of our commenters who think "No one cares about soccer!").

Landon Donovan should be going to Brazil, there is no doubt about that.

I'm not as upset about it as I was on Thursday, and that's only because I've really liked the Jurgen Klinsmann era and I think he knows what he's doing (for the most part).

But to tell me that "guys are slightly ahead of him" is worthless. Is he the same player he was in 2010? Of course not. Is he a starter on this team? Probably not.

But check back with me in the 70th minute against Ghana or Portugal or Germany, when the good guys are down 1-0, the midfield has no cohesion and Jozy Altidore is wandering aimlessly up top and hasn't seen a ball at his feet in an hour.

You're telling me that Julian Green or Chris Wondolowski is going to be a better spark off the bench than Landon Donovan? Please.

When Donovan took his hiatus to  Cambodia in 2012 and acted like he had no passion for soccer, I was 100 percent in Klinsmann's camp when it came to incorporating him back into the side. I liked that he was benched through the Gold Cup. I liked that he wasn't a sure bet to pull on the stars and stripes every match.

He hung his teammates out to dry in the middle of World Cup qualifying. It would not have been right to welcome him back without making him earn it.

But for Klinsmann to eventually bring him back into the fold, invite him to the 30-man camp, and THEN try to tell us all with a straight face that he's not one of the best 23 guys? That's just insulting. Both to Landon and to the fans.

(via soccerbyives.net)

Klinsmann's son posted (then deleted) a horribly misguided tweet yesterday that showed that some of those hard feelings still linger.

Some are trying to say that Klinsmann is using the horrendous "Group of Death" with Germany, Ghana and Portugal as his get out of jail free card. Basically conceding this World Cup while grooming youngsters for 2018. I won't go that far (Klinsmann already, inexplicably, has a contract through the next World Cup, anyway). But I don't like the idea of using a World Cup to give young guys experience for the future. They come along too infrequently and take too long to qualify for. That's what meaningless summer friendlies and the Gold Cup are for.

Listen, Landon Donovan was never going to be the key to this team making waves in Brazil. And if you thought he was, then it'll be a short trip for the US-of-A.

And guess what? The fact that so many people are SO ANGRY about this is a really great thing for U.S. Soccer. It means people care. It means people are emotionally invested in this team and this sport. What it really shows is that ESPN ratings for U.S. games next month are going to be astronomical.

I'm still just as excited for the World Cup as I was on Wednesday, and can't wait for it to start (working on a few fun World Cup-related things here at the Level). I hope Jurgen proves me wrong and Julian Green scores the game-winner against Portugal. I'll happily admit he was right all along.

In the meantime, I'll count down the days until USA-Ghana (24 days away) and hope Landon picks Cambodia again over showing up for Sunday's game against the Union.

Steve's Prediction: Landon Donovan 13, Union 1.

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.