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Sunday, January 31, 2010
Updated: February 2, 10:56 AM ET
Donovan finds his comfort zone in England


It's been nothing but good news for the U.S. team lately (meaningless loss to Honduras aside). The injury updates on key players like Oguchi Onyewu and Clint Dempsey appear rosy for the World Cup, and in Charlie Davies' case, there's a possibility that he could return as well.

On the field, U.S. players are continuing to make their mark in the EPL. Dempsey was arguably Fulham's best player before being hurt, Jonathan Spector has filled in well for the injured Herita Ilunga at West Ham and although Jozy Altidore has yet to score his first EPL goal, he's starting to contribute (he had an assist for Hull against Wolves over the weekend). Speaking of Altidore, he also managed to draw the penalty for Hull's second, although it was a soft challenge. If there's one thing you can clearly point to in Altidore's development, it's that since he's been in Europe, he's definitely learned how to embellish the effects of contact from defenders and win more free kicks. Of course, the biggest news was Landon Donovan's first goal for Everton (against Sunderland) and how he has played in general. Here's what I'm thinking:

1. Donovan finds the perfect fit overseas at last. There's no doubt that Donovan has proved he belongs and has the ability to play at a very effective level in the Premiership. He's had a couple of very good outings mixed with some average outings, but that's to be expected of someone who's still adjusting to the English game (I'm admittedly surprised/impressed, though, by just how quickly he has gotten up to full speed). The key here is that he has greatly endeared himself to Everton coach David Moyes and fans alike with his work rate, his set-piece work on corners and his intelligent use of the ball in general. He has even won over the hardcore skeptics in the Everton fan base who had wondered if the move was partially due to the marketing uplift it would give the club in America (a certain element of Manchester United fans also once wondered the same thing about Park Ji-Sung).

With Donovan recently stating more or less that he's having one of the best moments of his career, it's safe to say that he'll want to stay in England. The bigger question is whether or not Everton can come up with the $11 million or so that it'll take to prise him away from the Galaxy and MLS. (There's no question Everton wants him back, but its finances are shot.) If Everton can't find the money this summer, it's likely Donovan will draw interest from some other Premiership teams, but there's no doubt that Everton is the best fit for him.

For a start, Everton mirrors the U.S. national team in the sense that it likes to put men behind the ball and defense and relies on counter-attacking and set pieces offensively. Also, Everton is one of the closest-knit squads in the Premiership, a welcome respite for Donovan from places like Bayern (or some other top-tier teams) where squad camaraderie doesn't exist on the same level. Finally, and most importantly, Donovan isn't the best player on Everton (he's the fifth- or sixth-best) and isn't expected to carry the load, which allows him to play within himself and in the flow of the game without having to force things. If he went to another team -- say, Hull, Burnley or Wigan -- there'd be a lot more pressure on him to shoulder the offensive burden.

As for his next game, it comes in the traditionally heated Merseyside derby against hated rival Liverpool (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, ESPN2). If as expected, the Reds line up with defensive liability Emiliano Insua at left back, it's a matchup that Donovan could expose due to Insua's propensity to get caught out of position and lack of foot speed.

2. John Terry's days as England captain are numbered. After the latest scandal/revelation in John Terry's turbulent off-the-field life/soap opera, you have to think that England coach Fabio Capello is ready to pull the plug on Terry as captain of the English team. It was revealed in the English tabloids this past week that Terry had an affair with former best friend Wayne Bridge's girlfriend (the only question appears to be whether said girlfriend was Bridge's ex at the time, as Terry claims, or whether she was in the midst of reconciliation with Bridge, as others have claimed).

Either way, all this tabloid-speak about his personal life could be disregarded if not for Terry's litany of scandals. Who can forget his drunken taunting of American tourists in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Or how about recent allegations that he accepted significant sums of cash to conduct behind-the-scenes tours of Chelsea's stadium? Or how about accusations that he was seeking to profit from his England World Cup captaincy after revelations that his agents had circulated e-mails touting for commercial endorsements?

In terms of Terry's character, it's not as if the apple has fallen far from the tree either (his mother and mother-in-law were arrested for shoplifting last year). The question in footballing terms is what should Capello do about all of this, and make no mistake, Capello will do something (he already met previously with Terry about the e-mails to remind him of his "proper" duty as England captain).

Given his status as one of England's finest defenders, there's little to no chance that Terry is dropped from the lineup or squad (and nor should he be). However, I don't see how he can remain the English captain. Aside from the image aspect and conduct unbefitting what the captain of any national team should represent, the simple fact is that he has more than likely lost the respect of many (if not all) of his England teammates (Bridge is likely to be a member of the World Cup squad as well). A similar thing occurred in Australian Rules Football in 2002, when North Melbourne's Wayne Carey (considered one of the greatest Aussie Rules players of all time) was caught philandering with the wife of then-best friend and North Melbourne vice captain Anthony Stevens. The result? With the entire team strongly united against him and facing national condemnation, Carey resigned from the club and went on hiatus from the league for 12 months.