Landon Donovan felt the pain of Bayer 04 Leverkusen's exit from Europe more than most.
By Mark Bennett
When Bayer 04 Leverkusen's regular playmaker Robson Ponte picked up his fifth UEFA Champions League booking in the 3-1 first-leg defeat by Liverpool FC, Landon Donovan knew what it would mean for him.
With Ponte suspended for the return at the BayArena he became coach Klaus Augenthaler's first option as a replacement. After a promising substitute's appearance at Anfield, Augenthaler said: "Landon showed exactly what he is capable of today and he will take over in the engine room in the return leg."
Dream come true
It was a dream come true for Donovan. Not only because he would get to start a match in the Champions League but also because English teams always draw a lot of attention in his native United States, giving him the chance to prove to his compatriots that he has got what it takes to make it in Europe.
"The match against Liverpool is a huge chance for the team and for me personally," said the US captain before the visit of the Reds. "I don't just want to be on the field, I want to take control of the match."
Liverpool trio shine
However, on the night almost everything went wrong for the 23-year-old. Donovan never managed to get to grips with the match and Dietmar Hamann and Igor Bišcan took him out of the game completely with Steven Gerrard shining in the free role in midfield for Liverpool. Eight minutes into the second half Augenthaler had seen enough. Donovan, the frustration showing, left the field and was replaced by Clemens Fritz.
'Nothing went right'
"I am very disappointed," said Donovan after the 3-1 defeat at the BayArena. "Nothing seemed to go right for me today. I didn't play the passes I can play, I missed a good chance to give us the lead and I can only hope that the coach won't judge me on today's performance."
However, Leverkusen's designated playmaker on the night should not take all of the blame. The American often looked on in despair as the ball flew over his head and Leverkusen never really looked to the US international to come up with the inspirational ideas he is capable of producing.
"None of my players were at their best today and therefore they must all take the blame for what happened," insisted Augenthaler, refusing to point the finger solely at the midfield player. "We still believe in Landon because we know that he is an excellent player. When the time comes he will be given another chance."
Despite the coach's warming words the 23-year-old was left out of Leverkusen's 3-3 draw against Hertha BSC Berlin on Sunday and for the first time since returning from the San José Earthquakes in January he did not even come on as a substitute. The hope remains that the pain of failure against Liverpool will not take too great a toll on an exciting young talent.