VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLOMBIA – On a day when the three best American soccer players on the planet shared the field at Goodison Park, what mattered wasn't that Landon Donovan was the best of the Americans. What mattered after his two-assist performance in leading Everton to a 2-1 victory was that he was the best of the 22 players on the field.
The FA Cup Fourth Round tilt was dubbed the clash of Donovan and Clint Dempsey (at least in American circles), and while it was a great chance to see the two most successful and respected American field players do battle, the dominant storyline quickly became Donovan's own outstanding performance.
He delivered a pair of perfect crosses that were headed home for the equalizing and eventual game-winning goals. He buzzed up and down the right flank, pushing Fulham left back John Arne Riise all game long, recovering from his own mistake that helped Riise set up the penalty on Fulham's opening goal.
The match was simply the latest stellar showing by Donovan since returning to Everton this month. As if his 2010 loan stint wasn't evidence enough that Donovan was good enough to thrive in the English Premier League, he has returned to bury the notion that he couldn't be an impact player in England.
Make no mistake, Donovan has been Everton's offense since arriving, and if Everton had the money, you can rest assured David Moyes would find a way to pry Donovan away from LA Galaxy. But LA has made it clear that this loan stint will not last beyond the initial two months agreed upon. He has unfinished business with the Galaxy in the form of the CONCACAF Champions League title, something he hasn't won in his illustrious MLS career.
If anything, Donovan's run of form makes it a growing likelihood that he could make a permanent move to England a year from now. He would have 2012 with the Galaxy to try and win a Champions League title, and a fifth MLS Cup title, and he would then be heading into the final year of his current MLS contract. That might make LA's asking price more manageable for the cash-strapped Toffees.
By that point, Donovan wouldn't be going to Everton to prove anything about his ability, which used to be the thinking about his forays in England. No, Donovan would be moving to Everton to play where his ability can be showcased against the world's best. He is good enough - more than good enough - and as much as having him in MLS is great for the league, a talent like Donovan needs to be playing at a higher level.
Dempsey has been the beneficiary of just that through the years, as his stellar work for Fulham and ever-growing goal totals have shown us what can happen when a player makes the most of his ability and pushes himself in the world's toughest league.
Perhaps that should be the point taken away from Friday's match. Not that American stars were facing each other, but that we've reached a point where two Premier League teams could do battle and each of them be led by an American. Or two. Throw in Tim Howard's involvement and Friday's FA Cup match was a reminder of the growing impact being made by Americans in Europe. It is still far from where it could be, but with more players making moves across the pond, there are more chances for American players to establish themselves and thrive on club soccer's biggest stage.
Dempsey has become the poster boy for that dream. He didn't get to continue his outstanding run of form on Friday, due in no small part to a lackluster Fulham attack that sorely missed Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele. It wasn't the kind of day he would have hoped for, but if anything it should have served to magnify how impressive Dempsey's goal-scoring exploits have been for Fulham, a team with its share of problems.
Dempsey will have other big days. He's playing at too high a level these days not to, but on Friday, it was Donovan who stole the show, providing yet more evidence of just how good he is. He has absolutely nothing left to prove after the career he has enjoyed, but games like Friday's are still refreshing to see. They remind us just how special a player he is, a player capable of outshining everybody on the field, be they American or not.