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]

* * *

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.

Best of MLB: Dodgers deny Cubs' Jake Arrieta 21st straight win

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Best of MLB: Dodgers deny Cubs' Jake Arrieta 21st straight win

CHICAGO -- Scott Kazmir and two relievers combined on a one-hitter, matching zeros with Cubs ace Jake Arrieta before the Los Angeles Dodgers got to Chicago's bullpen for a 5-0 victory Tuesday night.

Arrieta went seven scoreless innings, but was denied his 21st consecutive victory. The Cubs had won in Arrieta's last 23 starts.

Cubs left-hander Clayton Richard (0-1) gave up three straight singles to lefties in the eighth, the last Adrian Gonzalez's liner to left that scored Chase Utley and ended the Dodgers' 16-inning scoreless streak.

Corey Seager hit a three-run homer off Trevor Cahill in the ninth.

Joe Blanton (3-2) struck out three in two perfect innings as the Dodgers snapped the Cubs' six-game winning streak.

Kazmir allowed a single and a walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. Adam Liberatore struck out one in a perfect ninth (see full recap).

Betts hits trio of homers in Red Sox win
BALTIMORE -- Mookie Betts hit a career-high three homers and drove in five runs, and the Boston Red Sox cruised past the Baltimore Orioles 6-2 on Tuesday night to open a three-game lead in the AL East.

Betts led off the game with a shot to center and added a three-run drive to left in the second inning. After lining out to second base in the fourth, Betts hit a bases-empty homer to right in the seventh.

Batting in the ninth inning with a chance to tie the major league record of four homers in a game, Betts grounded out to second against rookie Ashur Tolliver.

Still, he's the first Boston player to hit three homers in a game since Will Middlebrooks against Toronto on April 7, 2013. Betts' 12 home runs rank second on the team behind David Ortiz, who has 14.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts stretched his career-best hitting streak to 24 games with a single in the seventh inning (see full recap).

Rockies tie franchise record with 7 HRs
DENVER -- Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon each hit two of Colorado's team record-tying seven homers, powering the Rockies to a 17-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

Blackmon became the first player in Rockies history to hit leadoff homers in back-to-back games and added his first career grand slam in the seventh. Carlos Gonzalez homered for a fourth straight game, while DJ LeMahieu and Gerardo Parra also went deep.

It was the first time Colorado hit seven homers at Coors Field. The team also had seven on April 5, 1997, in Montreal.

Rockies right-hander Jon Gray (3-2) allowed three runs in six solid innings.

Jon Moscot (0-3) was hit hard in his return from the disabled list. He surrendered seven runs and four homers in two innings. Moscot also was grazed in the right ear in the third while bunting. Moscot stayed down for a moment before taking his base (see full recap).

Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams

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Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams

BOX SCORE

The gap in talent level that exists between the Phillies and some of the top teams in the majors has really been evident over the last eight games.
 
The Phillies have lost seven of those eight games to the Tigers, Cubs and Nationals. Tuesday night brought the latest defeat, a 5-1 loss to the National League East-leading Nats at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay). The Nats have won the first two games of the series and go for the sweep on Wednesday night.
 
While losing seven of their last eight, the Phillies have seen their feel-good story turn to dust. Their record has gone from 25-19 to 26-26 and their deficit in the NL East from two games to 5½.
 
“We had a good month and a half,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “When things are going good, they snowball. When things are going bad, they snowball. We’ve got to keep that snowball from rolling. We’ve got to get out of it.”
 
There are a number of reasons the Phillies have hit hard times. Poor offense is a big one. They have been held to two or fewer runs five times in their last seven losses and 20 times for the season. They are now averaging 3.15 runs per game, the lowest mark in the majors. Offense like that is the reason why Aaron Nola can pitch six innings of two-run ball and lose on two mistake pitches as he did Tuesday night. These pitchers have no margin for error.
 
One of the offensive’s big shortcomings is the lack of power. The Phils have been out-homered 15-7 in the last eight games. Washington hit four longballs on Tuesday night; the Phillies hit none. In fact, the Phillies had just four hits – period.
 
“We’re just getting out-homered every night,” Mackanin said. “We’re not hitting home runs. I feel like it’s a broken record. We’re not hitting.”
 
For the season, the Phillies have 39 homers. Only Atlanta has hit fewer.
 
And it doesn’t appear as if things are going to get all that much better any time soon. Management would consider trading for a bat close to the July trading deadline – if the team is in the race. With reality striking hard lately, it’s tough to see this team being in the race for anything but a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. In the short term, the Phils could soon have Cody Asche back on the roster.
 
“Our pitching overall has been very good,” Mackanin said. “We’ve just got to hit.”
 
The Nationals won this game with power and good starting pitching.
 
Right-hander Joe Ross held the Phils to a run over seven innings – an RBI triple by Cesar Hernandez.
 
Meanwhile, Jayson Werth capitalized on a poorly located fastball by Nola and homered two batters into the game. Daniel Murphy got Nola in the sixth to break a 1-1 tie.
 
Nola would like to have had both pitches back.
 
“The pitch to Werth was right down the chute,” he said. “With Murphy, I wanted to get it in a little further and I didn’t.”
 
Other than that, Nola was pretty good. He pitched out of trouble in the second inning and was supported by a double play started nicely at second by Hernandez and a nice catch by Odubel Herrera in center field.
 
“We’re doing some things right but not enough of them,” Mackanin said.
 
“That’s baseball,” Nola said of the lack of run support. “Sometimes we pitch bad and get a lot of run support. The guys are battling. I feel like we’re going to bounce back the next couple of games.”
 
The Nationals blew the game open with three runs in the ninth against reliever Colton Murray. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
The two home runs deprived Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon a chance at a save as he recorded the final three outs against his old team.

Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

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Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies' late-May slide continued in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
 
Aaron Nola delivered a solid start, but got poor run support. The Phillies entered the game averaging 3.2 runs per game, lowest in the majors.
 
The Nationals scored all their runs on home runs.
 
The Phillies have lost nine of their last 11 games. They are 1-7 in their last eight and have gone from 25-19 and two games back in the NL East to 26-26 and 5½ games back.
  
Starting pitching report
Nola went six innings and allowed two runs, both on solo homers. He walked one and struck out six. He is 4-4 with a 2.88 ERA.
 
Washington right-hander Joe Ross (5-4) pitched a strong game. He gave up just three hits and a run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out five. Ross has given up just two runs over 14 innings in his last two starts.
 
Bullpen report
Jonathan Papelbon closed it out for the Nats in a non-save situation.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits. They have been held to two or fewer runs 20 times in their 52 games.

Cesar Hernandez tripled home the Phillies' only run.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy accounted for the Nationals’ first two runs pair of solo homers against Nola. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer off Colton Murray in the ninth and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
Murphy also singled in the game. He had 47 hits in the month of May, tying a Washington/Montreal franchise record that had previously been shared by Al Oliver and Marquis Grissom.

Lineup stuff
Mackanin was trying to send Hernandez a message by batting him eighth (see story).
 
Bryce Harper did not play for Washington. He was hit on the right leg by a pitch in Monday night’s game.
 
Slumping Ryan Howard started at first base and went hitless in three at-bats to fall to .154. He hit .101 (7 for 69) in the month of May.
 
Howard will not start Wednesday night against Max Scherzer. He is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer. Tommy Joseph will start that game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint expires Wednesday. He could rejoin the team at any time.
 
Up next
 The series concludes on Wednesday night. Lefty Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) pitches against Washington right-hander Scherzer (5-4, 4.05).