Speaking from past experience, there are few adventures in sports that trump away days. When I think about all of the hours in my pre-professional blogging life spent on my feet with a song coming out of my mouth the best memories often center around stadiums that were not my club's home ground.
These golden moments don't just happen though as they require an incredible amount of coordination between the clubs, the supporters and (hopefully) a good travel agent. And, for the most part, they aren't the quick, 1-hour jaunts associated with some European leagues.
In a league that connects two coasts and spans two large countries the distance a supporter can travel for a match is more often than not extreme by world football standards. This excerpt from a recent article in The Guardian highlights this fact best:
"The average journey for North American fans is still one of the longest you would undertake in most other leagues; the bigger journeys are more expeditions than road trips; Portland Timbers fans going to New York is the same as going from London to Baghdad. LA Galaxy at Boston is longer than Tokyo to Manila.
The journey those Fire fans made to Toronto clocked in at 1,000 miles round trip, and that's their second closest game; in England, no-one can travel that far at all, and it's pushing the longest trip most European fans would have to make. Only fans in Russia can hold a candle in terms of the distances traveled to see a team play, and even there, the average distances tend to be exaggerated by a small number of teams in Siberia and the far-east."
Seriously, there are fans out there who are logging more air miles than Chelsey Sullenberger these days and I salute them for it. Special acknowledgment to those who travel to and from Canada to be with your team; anyone willing to brave both the TSA and customs for only a 33.3% chance at witnessing a win is alright in my book.
Landon Donovan's second loan stint at Everton may not have ended in storybook fashion – he missed his final game because of the flu – but that doesn't mean the LA Galaxy and US national team stalwart didn't cherish every moment he spent this winter in Toffee blue.
Donovan sat down with EvertonFC.com to talk about his month-and-a-half at Goodison Park and what the club means to him after two wildly successful loan spells at the Liverpool-based club.
And in regards to whether this is his last go-round at Everton? Donovan had this to say:
"I would approach it the same way I approach it each year when I get a call from the manager here. One, am I physically able to do it? Two, does the manager want me? Three, do I feel like I can contribute and benefit the club? I would not come back if it was just for me to have the experience, but where I couldn't benefit the team. That would do nobody any good. I have too much respect for the club, the manager and the players to do that. The expectation is very clear if I come back. If I feel I can deliver on that expectation and the club wants me I would absolutely do it. I know I will be back in the future. I just don't know if it will be as a player – I hope it is.”
Let's not overthink this one. Everton scored four goals in the six games before Donovan arrived, going 2-2-2 across all competitions. Since January 4, they've scored 11 in nine, going 4-3-2 with wins over Manchester City and Chelsea.
In January, Everton scored eight times. Donovan assisted five of them.
Somewhere, Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle are smiling.
Welcome to the Depth Chart, a shallow look at the hot topics currently dominating the American soccer conversation. A story's RANK indicates its size, while its BUZZ (thumbs up, or down, or both) reflects its sentiment. Scroll beneath the image for links to the articles referenced within.
This week, familiar themes populate the Depth Chart: trades, the USMNT and yet another big LA acquistion.
Spotted in the hallways of the Home Depot Center ahead of the Timbers' preseason match vs. the LA Galaxy today: Portland head coach John Spencer with projected No. 1 NFL Draft pick Andrew Luck.
On the surface it may seem random but this certainly wasn't thier first meeting; Luck is the son of Oliver Luck, who was president of the Houston Dynamo while Spencer was an assistant there.
Photo courtesy of @TimbersFC.
Update: Juninho has returned to LA on loan.
Just as Galaxy fans had come to terms to life without Juninho, reports in Brazil suggest the former LA defensive midfielder could already be on his way back.
Juninho signed a three-year deal with Sao Paulo after his loan stint with LA ended following the 2012 season. He even bid farewell to Galaxy fans via Twitter.
Now, though, a report in Gazeta Esportiva suggests that Juninho is not going to factor into Sao Paulo's plans after all, leaving him open to a return to MLS as long as the details can be worked out between the two clubs.
Chris Birchall wasn't a household name like some of the other internationals acquired by the LA Galaxy a few years ago. But he has been a stalwart of the Trinidad & Tobago national team since 2005, and he put in three more-than-serviceable years for Bruce Arena & Co.
From the looks of this tweet on Monday morning, his time at the HDC is done.
Disappointed to say that I will not be returning to LA Galaxy,I would like to thank everyone for a Superb 3years,fans exceptional!!Thankyou!
— Chris Birchall (@chrisbirchall7) February 6, 2012
A few weeks ago, Arena had this to say about Birchall: “There hasn’t been a decision made on him. Originally he wanted to go back to England, so we obviously agreed to that and didn’t renew his option. He was looking to explore opportunities in England. Perhaps he’ll want to come back.”
Not sure at this point if anything happened in England, but it seems like the manager's final question has been answered.
For the first time in league history, "Embarrassment of attacking riches" really is an appropriate phrase. There's never been a team as stacked as the 2012 LA Galaxy.
In Robbie Keane, they have a Designated Player striker who would be the odds-on favorite for the Golden Boot if he weren't going to miss at least a month for Euro 2012. In Landon Donovan, they have a former Golden Boot winner, MLS MVP and the all-time leading US goal scorer.
That David Beckham fella you've probably heard of, and lest you think he's merely a set-piece specialist, I suggest you re-watch the MLS Cup Playoffs and see how he constantly played the ball early and into stride, making it easier for the likes of Donovan and Keane to carry the ball at pace or pick passes themselves. And Mike Magee proved his worth several-fold over the second half of last season, showing a knack for one-touch passing in the final third and bagging timely goals when it mattered most.
Bringing back Edson Buddle – one of the league's all-time leading scorers – and adding him to that mix, then, is almost unfair.
So does it mean a repeat of this...
A solid chunk of those chances that Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman sent into the Angel City Brigade will land cozily in the net now that Buddle's back, which does eliminate one of the few weaknesses the Galaxy had. The big man never did get starter's minutes in Germany with Ingolstadt, but he did producing starter's goals, leading his team from the bench this year before the bizarre cancellation of his contract.
And, of course, we've seen what he can do in MLS.
For LA, though, the real issue is figuring out who's going to replace Juninho and Omar Gonzalez. Once Gonzalez got healthy last year, the Galaxy ran off a string of 24 league games with just one loss. During that stretch, they lost their starting 'keeper to injury, lost Donovan to the Gold Cup (and got him back injured), saw Beckham battle through a series of knocks including a fractured back, and had Leonardo and Gregg Berhalter go down for the year and for two months, respectively.
One loss in 24 despite that. Gonzalez got my MLS MVP vote – he was that important – and the Galaxy, for all their stars, were a team that was defined by their defense.
With Juninho, the appreciation was a little more subtle, and the (justifiable) worry among Galaxy fans is that his absence will become very, very tangible this season. The Brazilian was one of those "little things" midfielders, a guy who always managed to play the smart pass, always kept the central defensive pair shielded, always make sure his team kept its shape. And he came through with several big goals when the Galaxy needed it.
The difference between having him on the pitch and not was best illustrated in the playoffs. One game LA struggled to subdue a pretty mediocre New York Red Bulls side as Juninho served his suspension for the Rafa Márquez affair; the next, they tore through a very, very good Real Salt Lake team with relative ease, dominating the tempo for nearly the full 90 minutes.
Those were the two pressing issues for Bruce Arena and Co. heading into 2012, and landing Buddle doesn't answer either. Defense wins championships, and the Galaxy still have questions about theirs.
But ... man are they going to be fun to watch in attack. It could be 1998 all over again.
"Everything fits right, everything feels right. It's not too in your face. It's really kind of subtle but in a very good way."
-David Beckham, soccer & fashion icon
The underwear may not be in your face but the commercial is. Brace yourselves for some extreme, intimate close-ups.