Mar 30, 2012, 6:31 PM EDT
Landon Donovan just might be in for a weird year ahead.
Some of that is about injuries and advancing age. Bummer, I know. It hits everyone – the U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer, and one of the most decorated MLS men in league history doesn’t get a pass.
For Donovan, the growing tax of sprains and strains might be difficult to deal with because he’s been such a remarkably durable figure. He’s missed time in MLS before, but almost always for U.S. national team duty. Lengthy, injury-related setbacks have been few and far between so far. But he’s 30 years old now, so dealing with docs and rehab specialist may be a bigger part of the landscape ahead.
There’s something else at work, too, less related to the inexorable sands of time.
Could we be near a time when Donovan sees his role reduced or even marginalized with the national team?
ESPN Soccernet’s Leander Schaerlaeckens posted a lengthy Q&A last week with national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann. At the caboose end were interesting comments regarding a speculative “rift” between Klinsmann and Donovan. I doubt anything acrimonious was ever at work. So I might quibble with the syntax a bit, but sniffing around this issue is good journalism. Here’s Klinsmann’s response:
No. There’s no problem at all with Landon. It’s for us way unfortunate that he wasn’t available for the last eight games, whatever reason it was. We take it as it happened and are straightforward in our relationship, and obviously we want to see him back in the team. This time it was bronchitis. The other times was other injuries that hit him. There’s absolutely no problem with Landon.
But we need Landon with the team to move forward because the train has left at 200 miles an hour and he was not on the train for eight games, which was not ideal for us but it is what it is. [Friendlies in] May and [World Cup qualifiers in] June comes quickly, and that’s when Landon needs to be there and understand where is the team. We need him here as soon and as quickly as possible.
I thought about it then, but the Olympic train was pulling out of the station (bound for that fatal curve as it came around the Nashville bend, as we know) and our patriotic gaze went elsewhere. Now I’m circling back.
Donovan has played in two of Klinsmann’s 10 matches in charge. More important, the Galaxy attacker has missed most of the training sessions and road trips. Donovan appeared in Klinsmann’s debut, which was more or less just a howdy and handshake session for all.
Later, Donovan went through about three practices and then played in the Sept. 2 loss to Costa Rica. The team went on to meet Belgium, but Donovan remained behind as part of an arrangement made before Klinsmann came on board. So that’s it. Donovan has neither played for nor trained under Klinsmann since, unavailable due to injury, illness or club needs.
I have no problem believing Klinsmann and Donovan are cool, personally. I have no doubt that Klinsmann isn’t personally put out by Donovan’s absences. The U.S. manager is bigger than that.
Read those comments again. I think Klinsmann is being typically candid about things.
In his mind, something much bigger is at work, something transformative. The concepts and systems he’s preaching aren’t just schlocky motivational truisms up on the corporate pegboard. He believes in them. Plus, it’s tough getting others to buy in when someone rarely around can still be such an essential cog.
Again, that’s not Donovan’s fault. It really has been a series of bad luck or circumstance.
I assume, along with everyone else, that Donovan will be in camp in a few weeks when Klinsmann gathers his side ahead of the May-June friendlies and World Cup qualifiers.
Donovan is a smart soccer player; he’ll catch up quickly on whatever he’s missed. Clearly, Donovan starts from a point well ahead of pretty much everyone in the U.S. pool – this side of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, at any rate. Klinsmann knows so.
If something happens along the way, forcing Klinsmann and Co. to motor on, “200 miles an hour” through May or June without Donovan? Given what we know about Klinsmann and his quirky ways, would anyone be floored if the coach leaves Donovan off rosters moving forward?
Klinsmann has a noted history of committing to his system and beliefs, then implementing through choices not always in line with populist or conventional thinking. Klinsmann smiles affably and confidently right through any resulting controversy or criticism.
Donovan has meant so very much to U.S. Soccer for 10 years now, from massive goals at World Cup 2002 to his critical role in qualifying for World Cup 2010. (If you don’t understand how important Donovan was to a qualifying road that got squeezed pretty good here and there, you weren’t paying attention.)
But sooner or later, Donovan’s influence will naturally fade. I don’t expect the sun to begin setting in the summer of 2012.
Then again, one good tenet of journalism says never to let your audience be completely caught off guard by something. So keep an eye on this one.
Jul 1, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
As we gear up for a massive Gold Cup tournament, here’s a look at the superstars who will be on show in the United States of America.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT
With the summer transfer window officially open, plenty of deals have started to trickle through. Here’s a roundup of the latest.
Jul 1, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
USWNT legend Wambach joins the Dan Patrick show to preview the Women’s World Cup final.
Jul 1, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Can the Three Lionesses cause another upset to set up a clash with the USA in the final?
Jul 1, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Colombian forward is inching towards a move to Stamford Bridge.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
After giving away a PK in a pivotal moment of the USWNT’s World Cup semifinal, Johnston thanked her teammates for their support.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
The little magician grabbed three assists and carved open Paraguay’s defense time and time again. Sublime.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT
Spanish club reveal snazzy new jerseys with plenty of meaning behind them. Check out the rainbow inspired get-up, here.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Despite Di Maria’s stop-start debut campaign at Old Trafford, the Argentine international still has the backing of his teammates.
Jul 1, 2015, 9:22 AM EDT
Here’s the latest batch of gossip from around the PL.
Jul 1, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Joe Prince-Wright dissects the big deals of the summer so far and takes a look at the latest transfer gossip doing the rounds.
Jul 1, 2015, 7:10 AM EDT
England international right back Clyne has signed a long-term deal at Anfield.
Jul 1, 2015, 12:12 AM EDT
Jill Ellis takes a lot of criticism, but she got it right again on Tuesday, moves that got the U.S. into the World Cup final.
Jun 30, 2015, 11:50 PM EDT
It’ll be an interesting story to follow as it unfolds across American soccer’s top flight.
Jun 30, 2015, 11:20 PM EDT
For 32 glorious minutes, we thought there was a good chance we’d see a third-tier side in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s quarterfinals.
Jun 30, 2015, 10:47 PM EDT
The United States played its best soccer in two years with a victory over Germany in an epic win over Germany.
Jun 30, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
Either Landon Donovan is emotionally removed from last summer’s World Cup roster omission drama, or the USMNT legend just passive-aggressively lashed out at former coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:38 PM EDT
There will be a blockbuster final to the Copa America, as Argentina thumped Paraguay to cruise to the final.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:21 PM EDT
With one brilliant 90-minute performance, the United States reasserted itself as the best team in the world.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
The U.S. is headed to the final for the fourth time in seven tournaments.
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