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.

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Adrian Beltre hit his second home run of the game with two outs in the ninth inning, a two-run shot that rallied the Texas Rangers past the Oakland Athletics 7-6 on Monday night for their third straight win.

Beltre, who finished with four hits, had two singles in his first three at-bats before hitting a solo homer in the seventh. His game-winning drive came on the first pitch from Ryan Madson (3-4).

Until then, Texas had trailed since Danny Valencia hit a two-run homer for Oakland with two outs in the first. All 13 runs in the game were scored with two outs.

Texas turned three double plays behind starter Martin Perez, who has induced a major league-best 25 in 21 games.

Valencia also had the first of three run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that gave the A's a 5-1 lead (see full recap).

Blue Jays' Sanchez wins 10th straight decision
TORONTO  -- Aaron Sanchez pitched seven shutout innings to win his 10th consecutive decision, Kevin Pillar had three hits and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 on Monday night.

Sanchez (11-1) became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win 10 straight since Roy Halladay won 15 decisions in a row in 2003. Halladay and Roger Clemens (1998) hold the club record.

Making their first appearance in Toronto, the Padres were held scoreless until Alex Dickerson hit a two-run homer off Bo Schultz in the ninth.

Dickeerson's drive into the fifth deck extended San Diego's team-record streak of games with at least one home run to 23. The 2006 Atlanta Braves were the last National League team to homer in 23 straight games.

Roberto Osuna replaced Schultz and got two outs for his 21st save (see full recap).

Orioles top Rockies for 5th straight win
BALTIMORE -- Adam Jones scored the winning run in the 10th inning on a low throw to the plate by pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Colorado Rockies 3-2 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.

Jones reached on a one-out single off the third-base bag and took third on a single by Jonathan Schoop. Manny Machado followed with a comebacker to Lyles, who fumbled the ball before throwing home. Catcher Nick Hundley caught the ball near the ground and lost the handle while attempting to tag the sliding Jones.

Lyles (2-3) was charged with an error on the play.

Getting two RBIs from Jones, the Orioles climbed a season-high 18 games over .500 (58-40) and improved to 37-14 at home.

Chaz Roe (1-0) worked the 10th for the win (see full recap).

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson was standing in front of his locker speaking with reporters after his second strong outing in a week against the Miami Marlins when Cameron Rupp walked by an offered his take on all the trade talk surrounding the veteran pitcher.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Rupp said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

Hellickson laughed at his catcher’s commentary.

“I hope not,” he said.

If Hellickson really wants to stay with the Phillies and finish out this rebuilding season instead of moving to a contender for the final two months — and possibly beyond — he did himself a disservice Monday night.

He enhanced his attractiveness to potential buyers by pitching six shutout innings in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, who sports a 3.65 ERA in 21 starts, needed just 70 pitches to get through the six innings. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter with runners on second and third and two outs in a scoreless game in the top of the seventh. Ryan Howard struck out, following Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos, as the Phillies whiffed on a golden scoring chance.

“I hated taking Hellickson out of the game there, but we had an opportunity to score and I had to go for it,” manager Pete Mackanin said.

“After we didn’t score, I didn’t think we had a chance to win this game. I just thought that with their bullpen we were in trouble.”

The Phillies ended up winning with a rally against Miami’s bullpen. Tommy Joseph delivered a clutch, two-out double against Fernando Rodney in the eighth to score Maikel Franco from first. That was the only run the Phillies needed. They tacked on three against the sloppy Marlins in the ninth to finish it off.

Hellickson, David Hernandez, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez then combined to allow just one base runner in three innings to finish off the Phillies’ 11th shutout of the season. That’s the most in the majors.

“Our bullpen did a great job,” Mackanin said.

Three of the four pitchers that the Phillies used in the game — Hellickson, Hernandez and Gomez — are very much available for trades. They all pitched well with a gaggle of scouts sitting behind the backstop. A number of contending clubs — the Cubs, Orioles, Giants, Rangers and Blue Jays — had scouts at the game. Pitching, starting and relief, is high on the needs list for most of those teams.

Of course, the Marlins are looking for pitching, too. They have interest in Hellickson, though it’s not clear whether he is a top target of theirs. Maybe he will become a top target after what he’s done to the Marlins in the last week. Hellickson has pitched 14 innings over two starts against the Marlins. He has given up just six hits and a run.

“Just executing,” said the pitcher, explaining his success. “In my last two games the ball has been down for the most part. I’ve just gotten a lot of easy outs. The ball's down and not missing too many spots right now.”

Hellickson will be a free agent this winter and does not appear to be in the club’s future plan. Nonetheless, he has steadfastly said he would like to remain with the club for the rest of this season. Phillies management is not opposed to keeping Hellickson. He provides veteran stability and innings to a young rotation. But management would move Hellickson for a player that has the potential to help in the future.

Trade rumors can be distracting for a player. But Hellickson, who has been dealt twice in his career, is locked in.

“It doesn't bother me,” he said. “Once I'm in this locker room — obviously you still see it on TV and stuff — my focus is on helping us win today. Now it's on to the next start. It's been like this for a few years now so it's pretty easy to go out there right now.”

Mackanin said he had no idea what will become of Hellickson’s fate. But if the pitcher stays, he won’t complain.

“At this point, I don’t want to lose him,” Mackanin said. “I wish he could stay here. He’s that solid for us. He’s been like that the whole year.”

The Phillies needed a good pitching effort to pull this one out. Their hitters struck out 13 times, left 11 men on base and went just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

“We don’t show plate discipline,” Mackanin lamented. “We’re taking fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches. If you’re going to take fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches, you cannot swing at breaking balls in the dirt. That’s all I can say about that. We have to have more plate discipline.”

On the positive side of that, Franco and Rupp both walked three times, and Franco’s two-out walk in the eighth became the biggest run of the game on a night when Jeremy Hellickson and his status with the Phillies was the biggest storyline.

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson continued to enhance his trade value and Tommy Joseph had the big hit in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Monday night.

Hellickson shut down the Marlins for the second time in a week. The next time he pitches, it could be for them. The Marlins are one of the teams interested in the veteran right-hander. Scouts from several other contending teams were in attendance for Hellickson’s strong outing.

Joseph’s two-out double in the top of the eighth broke a scoreless tie.

Phillies pitching held the Marlins to two hits. The Phils have 11 shutouts this season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson pitched six scoreless innings and gave up just a hit and a walk while striking out one. He exited for a pinch-hitter after just 70 pitches. The right-hander has pitched 14 innings and allowed just one run in his last two starts, both against the Marlins. He has lowered his season ERA to 3.65.

Miami’s Jarred Cosart came up from Triple A and pitched five scoreless innings. However, he threw 92 pitches. He allowed three hits, a walk and struck out one.

Bullpen report 
Trade candidate David Hernandez pitched a strong seventh inning for the Phils, picking up the win. Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out.

Miami right-hander Kyle Barraclough came up big in the top of the seventh inning. He struck out Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and pinch-hitter Ryan Howard with runners on second and third to preserve a 0-0 tie.

Marlins right-hander Fernando Rodney struck out the first two batters in the eighth then gave up a four-pitch walk to Maikel Franco before Joseph’s two-out double delivered the game’s first run.

Rodney took the loss.

A.J. Ramos was charged with three runs in the ninth, two unearned.

At the plate
The Phillies survived 13 strikeouts, a 1-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position and 11 men left on base to score the win.

The Phils had just six hits. Joseph had a pair of them and now has 25 RBIs in 54 games.

Cesar Hernandez gave the Phils some cushion with an RBI single in the top of the ninth. Miami’s defense fell apart after that and the Phils scored two more runs to put the game away.

Asche had a hit to break an 0-for-26 skid. Bourjos is 0 for his last 17.

Trade talk
Andres Blanco is out for six weeks so he’s no longer a trade candidate, but others are (see story).

Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (6-11, 3.98) pitches against Miami right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) on Tuesday night. Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in beating the Phillies last week at Citizens Bank Park.