When Landon Donovan takes the field for Everton against Liverpool on Saturday (7:30am, ESPN2), he will be doing more than playing in the most important match he's played in since going to England on loan. Donovan will also be looking to exorcise some demons against the same team he faced when he put in arguably the worst performance of his career.
It was March of 2005 and Donovan drew a rare start for Bayer Leverkusen for its UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match against Liverpool. Leverkusen wore bright red uniforms that night, a color that only seemed to magnify Donovan's poor performance. He was timid, ineffective and utterly useless for the 53 minutes he played before being mercifully substituted. Donovan's showing led one writer to say the following about the performance:
"Poor Landon Donovan is putting in the most inept performance of any professional footballer I've ever seen. His confidence is so shot to pieces that every time the ball comes anywhere near him he looks scared."
A month later, Donovan would be back in Major League Soccer with the Los Angeles Galaxy, which he ultimately led to an MLS Cup months later as he resumed his place as the best player in MLS. That success did little to wash away the stigma of a second failed stint in Europe and the belief that Donovan just couldn't cut it across the pond.
Donovan couldn't be blamed for thinking about that awful performance when he faces Liverpool on Saturday, almost five years after that awful night. He has matured considerably since then, with his form for Everton a far cry from what he showed that night in Leverkusen. Since joining the Toffees, Donovan has been confident, aggressive, productive and effective. He's basically been everything he wasn't the last time he faced Liverpool, which is why Saturday's match carries even more important for Donovan.
The Merseyside Derby won't be the deciding factor of whether or not Donovan's loan spell at Everton is successful, but a strong performance against Liverpool would go even further in washing away the memories of his past failures in Europe while boosting his already soaring confidence as he prepares for a defining World Cup.
A good showing against Liverpool could also push Everton closer to considering a serious offer to keep Donovan permanently. It would be fitting if, five years after a poor outing against Liverpool secured Donovan's return to MLS, Donovan finally secured a move back to Europe on the strength of a good outing against Liverpool.