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.

Joe Biden tweeted at Carson Wentz: 'It's our year'

Joe Biden tweeted at Carson Wentz: 'It's our year'

It may be thanks to Vice President Joe Biden that we're all aboard the Wentz Wagon.

Biden may have coined the term and Barack Obama made it big.

Now, Biden has tweeted at Wentz after the Eagles' rookie led the Birds to a 3-0 start.

Philadelphia is a tad giddy.

Biden's tweet read:

Heart, guts, and poise from my guy, @CJ_Wentz. Huge game, strong start for the @Eagles. @DrBiden is pumped. It's our year.

You may have missed it, but when Biden was at the Eagles' week 1 game against the Browns, the Veep told head coach Doug Pederson he'd like to suit up and play.

"I wish I was good enough to be out there in a different role," Biden said.

"You want to put some pads on?" Pederson asks. "I can go get some."

"I did that through college," Biden responds. "I dreamed about it."

Biden comes in about 50 seconds into the below video.

Other RBs thriving, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) still 'the guy' when healthy

Other RBs thriving, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) still 'the guy' when healthy

Kenjon Barner has the third-most runs in the NFL of 14-plus yards despite having just 14 carries all year.
 
Wendell Smallwood ran for 79 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the first extended playing time of his career.
 
Despite their gaudy stats, Ryan Mathews will be the Eagles’ featured running back when he’s healthy, head coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
 
“I think we just continue the same way, really,” Pederson said. “When Ryan is healthy, he’s the guy, and then we’ll mix Darren (Sproles) in there and you saw what Wendell can do and we know what Kenjon’s all about.”
 
Mathews, who has been injury prone throughout his career, did not play after two early carries Sunday in the Eagles’ 34-3 win over the Steelers at the Linc.
 
Pederson said Mathews’ left ankle — originally injured in July, before training camp even began and then aggravated in the season opener against the Browns — is still bothering him.
 
“With that thing, that ankle, it’s something that for him it never loosened up (Sunday) and was stiff and so again (we) just opted on the side of caution more than anything else,” Pederson said.
 
Mathews gained minus-five yards on two carries in the first quarter and didn’t play again.
 
He's rushed for three touchdowns this year but is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry — 36th out of 40 backs with 20 or more carries this year.
 
Meanwhile, Smallwood is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, eighth-highest in the NFL, and Barner, with just 14 carries, has four runs of 14 yards. He’s averaging 6.1 yards per carry but doesn’t have enough to qualify for the league leaders.

Although Barner has the 58th-most carries in the NFL, only LeSean McCoy and Isaiah Crowell have more runs of 14 or more yards.
 
Sproles has been his usual electriyfing self in the receiving game and returning punts, but he’s averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
 
Since opening day last year, Sproles is at 3.6 per carry — 50th of 52 backs with at least 100 carries over the last two seasons.
 
Pederson said despite Mathews’ injury history — he started more than nine games twice in his first six seasons — he has no problem with the workload he gave him in Cleveland. Mathews had 22 carries against the Browns, his second-most since 2013.
 
“I think that’s a good number for him, honestly, and then for everyone else to get a few touches after that we’re on track,” Pederson said.
 
“It’s kind of with Carson (Wentz), I don’t think you ever want to go into a game thinking you want to throw it 50 times. If you manage it and keep it around 30 and have a successful running game, I think that’s a good balance.”
 
How much Barner and Smallwood will work in once Mathews returns remains to be seen.
 
But it’s hard to argue with their production.
 
“Everybody’s a little different runner,” Pederson said Monday, a day after the Eagles improved to 3-0.
 
“Wendell did an excellent job between the tackles last night, sort of downhill, Kenjon sort of off-tackle, and of course Darren can do everything.
 
“So we’ll still keep the rotation the same, we’re not going to change much that way, and just want to get everybody in the football game.”
 
It’s tough to put together a running back depth chart for this team. Mathews had the most carries against the Browns, Sproles had the most against the Bears and Smallwood the most against the Steelers.
 
Last time the Eagles opened a season with three different backs leading the team in attempts was 1989, when Mark Higgs had 13 carries in the opener vs. Seattle, Anthony Toney led the way a week later with nine carries against the Redskins (that was the huge comeback win from a 20-0 deficit) and then Heath Sherman had a team-high 16 carries a week later against the 49ers (when Joe Montana threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter).
 
How similar this year turns out to 2003 and the original Three-Head Monster of Duce Staley — now the Eagles’ running backs coach — Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter will sort itself out after the bye.
 
“It’s good to have that kind of depth at that position with as many touches collectively as a group that we’re going to get each game and the wear and tear on that position,” Pederson said. “It’s great to get that many guys in the game.”
 
The Eagles certainly do seem high on Smallwood, the only back in the group that Pederson didn’t inherit from Chip Kelly.
 
Smallwood missed most of training camp with a quad injury and concussion but has been very good since he’s been healthy.
 
“He’s much like Carson in how he prepares during the week,” Pederson said.
 
“We’ve been fortunate with our young players ... and how they work and how they handle themselves on and off the football field, and he’s done a great job in practice, he’s put himself in a position to help us, and it’s great to see him.
 
“We saw it early in the spring, we saw it in training camp before the injury.”