USMNT Daily Update: Time to think about life without Landon

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By IVES GALARCEP

Landon Donovan’s latest comments about his future, and about his desire to continue playing, rang the same alarm bells that went off back in May when he first revealed uncertainty about his future.

Since he burst on the scene a dozen years ago to begin what has become the best career in U.S. Men’s National Team history, Donovan has been an integral and indispensable piece to the national team puzzle. After his impressive 2010 World Cup the last thing U.S. fans wanted to think about was what life might be like for the national team without Donovan.

Well, it’s time to start thinking about it.

Yes, he’s only 30, and can still play at a high enough level to be a solid contributor to the national team’s qualifying campaign, and ultimately the 2014 World Cup, but if his heart’s not in it, and if he simply walks away, we will be forced to accept the reality that there will be life for the U.S. national team without Donovan.

It just might come sooner than most would have imagined.

In one regard, the past year has been good training for what life might be like without Donovan. He has missed so many national team games that it has allowed new faces to step in, and new players to impress Jurgen Klinsmann. Graham Zusi has emerged as a viable midfield option, and while comparisons to Donovan are unfair, Zusi’s emergence does offer some comfort as the realization that Donovan won’t be around forever becomes a more clear reality.

That being said, we shouldn’t assume Donovan is done. It’s clear he’s struggling for motivation right now, and it sure sounds like he’s burned out and in dire need of a break. There is plenty of time for him to get that time off to re-assess. The U.S. national team can afford to wait because it has spent much of the past year playing without him.

Make no mistake. Even in his current “What’s my motivation” mode, Donovan is still one of the best players in the U.S. pool. He still has speed, is still one of the most intelligent players you can put in a U.S. uniform, and his versatility means you can put him all over the field.

And if he doesn’t come back? If he decides this winter that it’s time to hang up the boots? The national team will go on. Just as it did when Claudio Reyna retired, when Tab Ramos retired and when John Harkes stopped playing.

Obviously in Donovan, the national team will lose the best attacking player the team has ever had, but the team is better equipped to deal with it now than say two or three years ao. Today, the national team has Clint Dempsey playing at a high level. It has Michael Bradley playing at Roma. The team has a forward dominating the Dutch League in Jozy Altidore, and and a player making a strong national team comeback in Eddie Johnson.

No, we may not see a player as dominant on the national team as Donovan was at his best, but even Donovan isn’t that Donovan anymore. It isn’t a reach to say the 2010 World Cup was his peak, and the two years since have seen him start out on the other side of the mountain, heading toward the end of an oustanding career.

That said. Donovan is still a quality player who, when healthy, is still good enough to start. Without him, the options on the wings for Klinsmann get a bit thinner. Donovan could player either flank in a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, and even play as a forward. No other player in the pool offers that versatility, and his absence would definitely weaken the depth the national team currently enjoys.

There is hope for reinforcements coming up the ranks though. Along with Zusi, you have Brek Shea who is still growing as a player, and Josh Gatt, who is enjoying a bright start to his young career in Europe. Klinsmann’s use of a 4-3-3 also allows him to tap into the sudden depth the national team enjoys at forward, which makes having pure wing options less of a necessity. Losing Donovan, without any of those wingers truly emerging as a serious threat, would probably making using a 4-4-2 less of an alternative for Klinsmann.

Yes, the national team can survive without Donovan, but the U.S. is better off with him in the fold in 2013 and 2014. The best hope for the national team is to have Donovan recapture the hunger. To take some time off and find his love for the game. The best thing about the national team now is that it doesn’t need him to carry it. He can very much be a role player. Someone who can take advantage of the attention a player like Dempsey draws. Someone who can read the game on a high level like Bradley and combine with him on defense-cracking passes.

As every national team player will tell you, once you are away from the national team it becomes something you miss, and it is tough to imagine Donovan not wanting to still be a part of it all once the Hexagonal begins and the national team starts playing important matches against the likes of Mexico and Honduras. It is the reason he went to Mexico City and played in the August friendly despite not being completely healthy. It’s why he got on a plane and flew from Los Angeles to Miami with an injured knee before the team’s recent qualifying wins against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala. He was hoping to be able to go, but he had to know he couldn’t, even as he walked on that plane.

Those were the actions of someone who still cares about the national team, and still wants it to be a part of his life. He can do all the public soul-searching he wants, but those moves were the ones of somebody who we shouldn’t go writing off just yet.

Donovan put the chances of him playing in the 2014 World Cup at 50/50. It is a safe bet that number will chance once he has had some time off and a chance to decompress and think about his future.

If, by chance, he decides his national team days are over, it will be a sad day, but the team will manage without him. Just as the team has for much of the past year.

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73 Responses to USMNT Daily Update: Time to think about life without Landon

  1. ChrisTheLSUTiger says:

    Donovan still has a lot to offer the NT, and I hope he’s around come 2014.

  2. Old School says:

    Short term: Not having Donovan has been a huge blow to any potential improvement in “attacking football” that JK wanted to implement.

    Long term: It could be a blessing Donovan has been absent and a much needed wake up call to the current player pool that needs to step up.

    Outlook: I’d love to have a fresh/mentally ready Donovan for 2014. However, if he continues to have one foot in the grave, I want no part of that mentality/attitude and he can stay at home.

    • PD says:

      Here’s a win/win scenario:

      1. LD takes a half-season off, which he calls a retirment (end of 2012-December 2013), ends his contract with LA and MLS, grows a beard, goes on walkabout, learns to knit, etc…

      2. the USMNT, resigned to a post LD world, turns to giving playing time and callups to some NextGen players during the hexagonal (MB, Zusi and beyond), giving them important match experience and time-to-be-a-hero opportunities that would be taken up by LD if he were around.

      3. After ingesting some especially clarifying herbal products in a non-descript Peruvian Mountain valley, LD rediscovers his love for footy. Since he’s out of contract he signs a free January 2014 transfer to a non-MLS club (maybe in Peru? habbout Mexico? Ah the irony…), plays like a man possessed (think Gomez 2.0, only like on an epic scale) and storms back into National Team relevance.

      4. Team USA enters the WC Finals Tournament in Brazil with an incredibly deeper and younger pool of young attacking midfielders plus a revitalized a healthy (and still bearded) LD.

      Win/Win.

  3. mikeandike says:

    while the offense is deeper in some respects, like forward ( with scorers in Holland, Austria, Mexico and MLS), USMNT is weaker than in the recent past in terms of wings-which is where Donovan typically operates.

    Donovan and Beasley lit it up in 2002, both disappointed in 2006, but Beasley was just coming off a stand out Champions League performance in 2005-no one in the current pool outside of Donovan has reached a performance level anywhere near that. In 2010 Donovan was still at peak levels, as he showed at Everton …..creative mids have almost always been a hole with BB and Klinsmann, but that’s a place Donovan also made a difference form time to time, when he played behind the target forward…

    USMNT does need Donovan for at least this cycle as there isn’t a single wing option playing in a top-tier to mid-tier European league (Gatt and Bedoya are in Scandinavia), or has been able to string together consistent seasons in MLS (Shea)… unless FJ moves up to LM or Chandler comes back and plays RM, there is virtually no speed or pedigree on the wings… Zusi has filled in nicley, but is not someone opposing defenses will be losing sleep over…

    • Chad Christopher says:

      i agree with most of what you said, but i think zusi is still getting his USMNT sea legs under him steady. also, he still has good potential to learn and improve with experience, just like shea.

      • skyman says:

        I like Zusi’s play, and think he’s a highly intelligent footballer, but he doesn’t have near the speed of LD.

        I’m having a hard time seeing Shea being in the same league, quite honestly. I would love to eat crow on that though. .. .

        • Clover362 says:

          Shea has all the tools and the physical attributes to be better than Donavan,

          What Shea lacks and Donavan has, is experience, maturity and Soccer IQ. donavan is the US most creative attacking player ever and it’s just obvious he sees the game more clearly than any one else in the Pool (MB is close but still not on LD level),

          • josh says:

            Shea does not have the speed burst that characterized Donovan’s play for so many years.

          • GW says:

            Comparing Shea to LD is ridiculous and completely unfair to Brek.

            By the time LD was Brek’s age he had been a star in a World Cup ,had signed a long term deal with Leverkusen and was tearing up MLS.

            The simplest way to describe Donovan is that for almost all of his USMNT tenure he has been our most dangerous player, the one the other managers have to plan for. That may never happen with Shea.

  4. Guy #2 says:

    Lando could have been the first real world class player the US has ever had, if only he had the mentality of Dempsey! I actually think that, of the current squad players, MB may go down as the best of the group. I would say Holden had an outside chance at becoming a world class players– before all those injuries.

  5. PD says:

    New version of the Lemonheads classic?

    “It’s a shame about Landaaaay”

    link to youtube.com

  6. Kojo says:

    People should realize that Donovan is fiercely loyal to growing soccer in America. If you followed him in his early career he admits he wasn’t ready to play overseas but at the same time he saw a need to grow MLS as a league and for the league to showcase American players of his talent. Not all the great MLS players have to be foreign they can be American and we as American soccer fans should be eternally grateful for his staying in the league during those painful years just like we are grateful for Anschutz and Hunt.

  7. divers suck says:

    If Landon opts out of WC 2014 for any reason aside from injury, I guarantee once he’s 40 yrs old and above (maybe earlier), he will regret it. I’m not claiming to be a shrink or anyone else crawling into his head. Just stating a fact.

    • TomG says:

      Actually, you’re stating an opinion, but I’d probably agree :)

    • Jamie Z. says:

      I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but I do disagree with the increasingly prevalent use of the word “fact” when stating an opinion.

      • divers suck says:

        Jamie Z. !!! Thanks for pointing that out! I’m being serious. I had no clue I actually did that until you mentioned it and also HATE it when I read it!! My apologies to all!! I hope you got my point (and yes, opinion, anyways) though.

    • matt says:

      “If that plane leaves the ground (for Brazil) and you aren’t with them, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life.”

    • BrianVT says:

      He’ll regret it for about as long as it takes to watch the clip of the Algeria goal for the 143rd ba-zillionth time.

  8. Michael R. says:

    I don’t mind if LD makes the personal choice to give up international football before WC2014. But, honestly, we’ve got to know early in 2013 if that’s the case.

    Counting the hex, Gold Cup, and early 2014 friendlies…we’ve got maybe 20-ish games. If Landon won’t be there in Brazil, we have to get Zusi, Gatt, Bedoya, Shea, etc., etc., etc. a significant amount of minutes with the USMNT.

    Ultimately, I can’t imagine LD playing with us in the hex and then bowing out before one last moment in the sun. We’ll know one way or the other, rather soon.

    • GW says:

      “But, honestly, we’ve got to know early in 2013 if that’s the case.”

      No we don’t.

      JK , it should be obvious to everyone, is already planning for life w/o Donovan. Klinsmann is from Germany and he has seen many teams have to go into World Cups w/o their “star”. He also knows that if LD is ready at the last minute, he will pick him.

  9. Andy says:

    We’ve been essentially living life without him for the past year. I’m not saying that he isn’t a huge boost to the team, but I’m certainly not terrified of being without him. We can win without him, but it would be nice to take the pressure off of younger guys like Shea, Gatt, Gyau, Pontius, Corona, etc. to perform while they learn from a great player in Donovan.

    • TomG says:

      We beat Mexico without him, sure, but it was a hideous, narrow game where we packed 10 men behind the ball. Can we currently play on even footing against a good team without the width LD provides? Personally, I don’t think so. I’m interested to see what How Zusi fares in that situation. Does he have the speed to press forward and track back? Not sure.

      • Jose Mourinho says:

        a hideous brand of soccer that won the game… what’s the problem with that?

        • TomG says:

          Nothing wrong with it. Just that it is a low percentage way to go about things. You have to rely on converting on the one or two chances you will have all night while hoping the stronger team misses the five or six chances THEY get. You can take one or two games that way, but you won’t win any tournaments.

      • GW says:

        Mexico was a friendly. It did not count. We know LD can produce under real pressure, the kind that game did not have.

        Zusi did well in the Qualifiers facing real pressure but he is not Donovan and these comparisons are unfair. With Donovan you always knew that he was capable of turning it up a notch when needed (second half Slovakia game). Zusi may grow not it but time will tell.

  10. TomG says:

    Our 2 biggest weaknesses with the MNT are CB and wing. We are specifically weak in terms of speed and crossing ability at wing – 2 qualities LD possesses in spades. LD is still probably our fastest player (until Gatt takes the pitch) and anyone who saw him in his recent stint with the Toffees understands that he also offers the best cross at speed of anyone in the pool. It would be very difficult to play good, attacking soccer Against top teams without LD in the lineup. Shea simply doesn’t have the touch or the cross and Zusi doesn’t have the speed. I worry that Zusi won’t be able to stray forward at all against top competition for fear of getting caught field and not having the pace to track back. In 2 years? MAYBE GATT or Gyau will be ready, MAYBE Shea will have improved his touch, MAYBE Zusi has a bit more ace than most give him credit for, but that’s a lot of maybe.

    • Chad Christopher says:

      i agree. although i know it’s unreasonable to think about our NT winning the cup in brazil, i have a habit of hoping we do. i’m almost certain we have a legitimate–although most likely small–chance of winning it all, if donovan is playing, altidore is playing, chandler comes back, and we find a cb or two out of all our prospects. it might be possible for all that to still happen. if only one happens, i doubt we have a shot.

      • PD says:

        Maybe, but add a key injury to someone like Deuce to the mix and and even with your planets aligning we don’t make it past the last 16.

    • Clover362 says:

      Shea has a devistating cross, his touch is actually quite good he is just used to MLS where he can be a bit sloppy and get away with it which he can’t do in International play. What all the Players lack that LD has is vision. Donavan sees that game better than any one and is able to pass players into runs they would not make on their own that make THe USMNT more dangerous than they would otherwise be. The only other play in the pool I’ve seen with a similar type of vision as LD is ADU and he has other weaknesses that probably will keep him out (even though he still is rediculously young when you think about it).

    • GW says:

      I disagree. The USMNT has many talented players.

      Their biggest weakness with the USMNT is that there is a lack of players with experience at the highest levels of pressure. In the World cup that slight edge, orthe lack thereof, can kill you.

  11. TomG says:

    Why are my comments being moderated? I didn’t say anything remotely controversial.

  12. atd says:

    Wouldn’t be surprised if this story turns out to have a surprise ending.

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      Maybe because you rattled off a bunch of comments right after the other. Might be set up to halt spamming. We’re still learning the system as we go. Just launched a few weeks ago.

  13. Mike R says:

    Shea is regressing and is one dimensional and GATT is already injury prone. The cupboard is empty.

  14. scottishkyle says:

    All it will take to overcome his angst is for MLS to let him go. He only has one year left on his contract, so even MLS should see that it would be best all-round, if they let him go for a low or free transfer.

    • Old School says:

      In your scenario, Don Garber becomes a Soccer Mom, doesn’t care about his responsibility (MLS) and promotes his availability to Manage the Senior USNT.

      That’s the only way it would happen.

  15. Chad Christopher says:

    i think they would only transfer him to a champions league team, and for a high price, and that team would want him playing now, which i don’t think landon really wants.

  16. Peaton says:

    Landon is massive. I was not an early fan, but am now a convert. Could he take on a role and position shift similar to Giggs?

  17. uDaMan says:

    If you follow international soccer closely. This happens A LOT. Some players talk about retiring (when they may have one more World Cup as a “veteran / ace distribution man / super sub role” – some follow up with the early retirement – others don’t. (Some even “do” retire only to come back at the last second after being begged by their fans + presidents / prime ministers on National TV. And some show they really weren’t at World Cup level anymore… but others…

    Look at Roger Mila. He was up there in age over 40 years old & did amazing in Italy 90′ (They were prob. the most fun team I cheered for outside of my US / South America favs.)

    But if he retires. That’s that. He did a great job. Always lit up Mexico in friendlies & the big game in KOREA 02′ The US has no one like him (at all.) But it would be a good chance for Klinsy to see what options there are. This team has been injury prone & players have not always been firing on all cylinders. But the addition of the youngsters + the veterans from South Africa 10′ may work out.

  18. Jdavids says:

    great read. good insight Ives.

  19. Lazio Curva Sud says:

    John Harkes “stopped playing” because he had sex with Eric Wynalda’s wife. Don’t believe me? Ask Roy Wegerle.

  20. jon says:

    Klinsi needs to find a way to get landon reinvigorated and excited about soccer again. Perhaps orchestrate – it’s a wonderful life style — a tour through the world now if donovan had never played soccer. soccer is still played on football fields with yard lines, and only by USL and WPS, because MLS folded for poor viewership. beckham is playing in china. we don’t don’t get out of our group in 2002 and don’t qualify in 2006 or 2010. The best rivalry in the region is honduras and mexico. dempsey fizzles after he gets paid in his first contract with fulham cause he doesn’t have the insatiable desire to be considered better than donovan. soccer continues to be a sport that americans know as something girls play in high school. there are no US “soccer blogs.” abby wambach and alex morgan are the only US players that gatorade gives a sponsorship deal to.

    • jon says:

      worst of all, in a world without donovan, bein sports STILL has the rights to USMNT games, and doesn’t allow them to be broadcast on any station anyone gets.

  21. Ryan says:

    im scared of the prospect of qualifying without donovan. We can barely beat Antigua. We need all hands on deck. We could easily be beat of a qualifying spot by a more determined, focused, and organized team from central america. Teams like panama, costa rica, and Honduras are not going down without a fight. I really dont buy the excuses of made from the Antigua game. We have players in EPL, we need to win that game 4-0 whether or not the field is a mud pit, is not wide enough, it was too windy, etc etc. The teams that can win away from home will qualify in the next round. Im worried that without donovan’s experience, vision, passing, and nack for the back of the net, that might not be us.

  22. biff says:

    For me at least, the mystery of Landon Donovan’s decision to skip the MRI scan in Los Angeles before the Antigua game but instead to fly to Miami to meet with the USMNT is now over. I did not buy the story from Donovan that he skipped the MRI because his knee felt better and he thought he would be able to play against Antigua. As mentioned in the article above: “It’s why he got on a plane and flew from Los Angeles to Miami with an injured knee before the team’s recent qualifying wins against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala. He was hoping to be able to go, but he had to know he couldn’t, even as he walked on that plane.”

    I agree with that statement 100%, but I couldn’t figure out why Donovan would make the trip knowing he was not yet fit to play.”

    But after Donovan’s interview yesterday it is all starting to make a bit of sense. Could it be that Donovan, after missing so many games under Klinsmann, flew to Miami with injured knee and olive branch in hand to make peace with Klinsmann, show Klinsmann he is still committed to the team and wants play bad and to be a part of the USMNT Hex squad and hopefully his last World Cup in Brazil?

    I think it is possible that is what Donovan was doing and Klinsmann should accept the overture and do all he can to reintegrate Donovan into the team. Yes, Zusi is looking good and it is possible that Zusi or someone else might be seriously challenging Donovan for a starting slot in Brazil 2014. But I imagine a fit Donovan would be able to hold his starting spot and be an inspiration to the team.

  23. Joe says:

    Worst case scenario…Donovan retires from football, grows a hipster beard, pretends to be a hipster, befriends Waldo, and ends up marrying a newly divorced Kelly Ripa. So…let us suppose he will not be in WC2014, then what? Let me shake the crystal ball and see what I see…(play Wayne’s World “do-do-do” sound on repeat here blurring the camera into wavy lines)

    Here are the 23 I see going to Brazil…

    (3) GK – Howard – Guzan – Rimando

    (8) Defenders – F Johnson – Cherundolo – Cameron – Bocanegra – Goodson – Chandler* – Lichaj – Edu

    (8) Midfielders – Bradley – Williams – Zusi – Jones – Holden – Shea – Corona – Kljestan

    (4) Forwards – Dempsey – Altidore – Johnson – Johannsson*

    Yep, we’ll be fine without him. Thank you for your service Mr. Donovan.

    • Joe says:

      Apparently, Aron Johannsson pulled out of Iceland WCQ with a groin injury. Could possibly have faked the injury to at least give the US a try. We’ll find out soon!

      • Joe says:

        Dear JK,

        Please work your magic and call-up Aron Johannsson for the upcoming friendly v Russia. Also, please take a look at the rest of these guys who are eligible to play for the USMNT.

        Aron Johannsson – FW, AGF Aarhus
        Seb Hines – DF, Middlesbrough
        Gotoku Sakai – DF, VfB Stuttgart
        Fabian Hurzeler – MD, FC Bayern Munich
        Julian Green – MD, FC Bayern Munich
        Alex Zahavi – MD, Maccabi Haifa

        Thank you.

        • Lost in Space says:

          I’m all for JK looking at Aron, Seb, and Gotoku; I would also add Gatt, and Bedoya as players needing to be brought into a camp for a look.
          As for Hurzeler…he’s still a few years away IMO. I’d say the soonest we’d see him for the Senior team would be following WC 2014 (even then he’s likely to be w/ Germany).
          As for Green….He’s a great prospect, but I’m fairly certain he’s a striker. But again still a few years away.
          Zahavi I think has already accepted a call up to Isrial’s national team. Besides not sure he offers anything above that Gatt/Gyau/Johannsson wouldn’t offer. I’m all for have as many quality players as possible, but don’t see him advancing beyond roll player with the USMNT.

  24. Chris says:

    Start of an otherwise great day, you mention Eddie Johnson as a potential replacement for LD. This is worse than watching “Eraserhead.”

  25. White Kix says:

    So, Klinsman’s main focus for the USMNT is motivation (Because it is obviously not tactics or player selection, he must spend more time on youtube looking for motivational speakers to bring into training camp who can tear phone books than watching game tape of his players and oppents), yet, his best player is considering early retirement due to a lack of motivation?????????????? I expected the Donovan Klinsman relationship to be strong considering Klinsman brought Donovan to Munich a few years back, but it doesn’t look that way. I wonder if there were some issues/strains/etc… during that time and the two can’t stand each other (or just simply don’t like each other)?