The U.S. World Cup coach said it bluntly, and soccer analysts agreed. For Landon Donovan to raise his game, he must leave Major League Soccer and play in a more competitive atmosphere, mainly in Europe.
Donovan, a 24-year-old forward, has taken much of the blame for the U.S.' poor performance at the World Cup in Germany. Many said that Donovan's play lacked aggression in the U.S.' three games, which resulted in a tie, two losses and a first-round exit.
Donovan, however, doesn't think he needs to nurture his game overseas. "I wouldn't say never but I'm not going anywhere for a while," Donovan said after the Galaxy's practice Wednesday.
"I'm American and as much as people want to say going to Europe is the thing to do, there are a lot of European players on our national team and on other national teams that have not played well in this World Cup."
But he conceded that the U.S. team's performance in the final 2-1 loss to Ghana lacked a "sense of urgency," Donovan said.
"From me or the team, there was no sense this might be it if we don't get going," he said. "The last few minutes, we kind of finally realized that this is it and that's pretty unprofessional and that's too late."
In many ways, Donovan signifies the past, present and future of U.S. World Cup soccer. It was Donovan who four years ago led the U.S. team into the Cup quarterfinals. And it will be Donovan, who at the prime age of 28, will presumably guide the U.S. into South Africa for the next World Cup in 2010.
He realizes that much of the burden for the United States to perform well will land on his shoulders.
"It comes with the territory," Donovan said. "I get a lot of credit when I shouldn't and I get a lot of criticism when I shouldn't. That's the way life is."
Donovan, a Redlands native, already had two overseas stints. In 1999, he signed with Germany's Bayer Leverkusen at 17 but failed to crack the first-team lineup.
A loan to the San Jose Earthquakes brought him to the MLS, but he returned to the German team in 2005. After a poor performance in the UEFA Champions League against Liverpool, he came back to the MLS with the Galaxy.
Now, the calls are coming for him to return overseas and play more matches against better competition.
One of the most vocal proponents of Americans playing in Europe is U.S. Coach Bruce Arena.
"And the way for us to get our players to get better is: We do need to get more of our younger talented players in Europe," Arena told the Associated Press recently. "We need them in a year-round soccer environment."
However, Donovan said that without the MLS, there would not be a talented pool of players to pick for the national team.
"I can't imagine how this national team would be formed without MLS and [Arena] knows that," Donovan said. After the disappointing World Cup, Donovan planned on taking additional time off before returning to the MLS, but he kept rehashing the tournament in his mind and he needed game action to shake off the bad effects.
"In a couple months, this will be over with," he said. "People will forget about it and move on and that's what I'm looking forward to."