Life Without Landon Donovan: U.S. Soccer Moving Forward

30
May

On May 22, 2014, Head Coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23-man squad that he will take to Brazil to compete in the World Cup, and for the first time in 12 years, Landon Donovan wasn’t on the roster. This angered the die-hard fans, who know that he’s the all-time leader in goals and assists for his country, and it angered the casual fans who know Donovan for his late game heroics against Algeria to secure advancement to the round of 16 at the World Cup in 2010. Since the 2002 World Cup, where the U.S. reached the quarterfinals and Donovan was named Young Player of the Tournament, Donovan has always been the name on fans’ lips.

So now that he’s gone, fans are now completely writing off the already unfortunately grouped U.S. team. Being grouped with Germany (ranked #2 in the world by Fifa.com), Portugal (ranked #3 in the world by Fifa.com), and Ghana, who have knocked the U.S. out of the last two world cups, it’s safe to say that they have achieved the epitome of a “group of death”. So why leave out a talismanic figure in U.S. Soccer folklore like Landon Donovan with such odds stacked against them?

The U.S. Men’s National Team will go into Brazil with the best 23-man squad they have ever had, and, like it or not, Landon Donovan isn’t good enough to be included.

That might be a little hard to swallow for some fans, Donovan has been one of the shining lights over the years in a largely mediocre U.S. side that has achieved modest success but hasn’t taken the next big step. Obviously that “big step” isn’t going to happen overnight, but this is a good start.

Donovan is 32 years old, and as a player who largely relies on his fitness and work rate, it doesn’t make sense to give him a roster spot for sentimental value. That being said, someone has to make up for the absence of the goals and assists missing now that Donovan is gone. Looking at the roster, the players most likely to fill his role are Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud, Brad Davis, Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannson, and Julian Green. Of those players, only Clint Dempsey and Brad Davis are older than 27. This is evidence of a clear push to introduce younger talent in the playmaking role, with a fine example being winger Julian Green. Green is currently under contract at super power Bayern Munich and will turn 19 on June 6, 2014. This was obviously an investment for the future. Because of Green’s American father and German mother, Green could have declared for Germany where he has 11 caps between their U19, U17, and U16 teams, but after Klinsmann offered him a direct route to Brazil as a 19-year-old senior player, it was hard for Green to turn down such an opportunity.

landon donovan

Though Green is part of an illustrious club like Bayern Munich, he hasn’t achieved a senior debut yet. This is troubling at first glance, but playing for the reserves he has scored 15 goals and 8 assists in 23 appearances, a staggering figure. This would indicate it is only a matter of time before he gets a chance, whether it’s at Bayern or another good European club, and what better way to showcase your talent than on an international stage against the world’s best.

In addition to Green, Diskerud and Johannson are both 23 years old and will play a big role in how the Donovan omission is viewed. Johannson, who was born in Mobile, Alabama but grew up in Iceland, has been playing very well for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands since arriving there last January, racking up 29 goals and 7 assists in 59 appearances. Johansson will play a forward role for the U.S. and has the potential to pair nicely with a big target like Jozy Altidore. Diskerud is a versatile player who can play any role in the center of the midfield. He maintains good control of the ball and is a good passer. Mix will most likely come in as a substitute with Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman, and Jermaine Jones also competing for a role in the new diamond formation that Klinsmann has been utilizing as of late. Both Johannson and Diskerud scored as substitutes in a 2-0 win against Azerbaijan on May 27th.

Along with an injection of good young players, this U.S. team still has plenty of leadership and experience without Donovan. Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Demarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, and Jermaine Jones are all over thirty, good leaders, and have a huge part to play in the success of the stars and stripes. Though I support Klinsmann’s move to leave Donovan out of the squad, if these players don’t perform like they have to, and if they don’t express good leadership, it’s likely that Klinsmann’s time as the U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach will come to a close. That would be a shame given the positive direction the program is heading in. Klinsmann did sign a contract extension through 2018 and it will be good for U.S. Soccer if he fulfills that contract and beyond. No coach in their right mind would throw a squad into a World Cup Final just for development and Klinsmann seems to be in his right mind. He’s an experienced coach and he has a plethora of good players at his disposal.

I will reiterate, this is the strongest U.S. Men’s National Team that the U.S. has fielded, even without Donovan. They have an extremely steep uphill battle ahead of them, but no matter what the results, they will be a fun team to watch, this year, and for years to come.

Games leading up to the World Cup:

  • June 1, 2014 2:00 PM ET vs. Turkey Red Bull Arena; Harrison, N.J.
  • June 7, 2014 6:00 PM ET vs. Nigeria EverBank Field; Jacksonville, Fla.

World Cup Group Play:

  • June 16, 2014 6:00 PM ET vs. Ghana Estadio das Dunas; Natal, Brazil
  • June 19, 2014 6:00 PM ET vs. Portugal Arena Amazona; Amaus, Brazil
  • June 26, 201412:00 PM ETvs. GermanyArena Pernambuco; Recife, Brazil
About the author: Jay Douglas