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Will Landon Donovan be welcomed back into national team?

Feb 18, 2013, 12:10 PM EDT

Mexico v United States Getty Images

When we talk about Landon Donovan’s return, LA Galaxy fans want to know how it shapes the club and its pursuit of an unprecedented third consecutive MLS Cup crown.

Meanwhile, the majority of domestic soccer supporters are more interested in how the one of the country’s best set of soccer feet (ever, that is) can fizz up a national team attack that looks mighty flat at the moment.

Will the national team deciders welcome Donovan? The simple answer here is: Why not?

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann has generally shown a balance between idealism and pragmatism. He certainly has bold ideas about how the United States should play, higher up the field, more controlled out of the back, looking to apply pressure offensively and without the ball.

The reality has been harder to come by, which is why the actual game-day execution under Klinsmann has frequently looked similar to the less-dynamic ways of predecessor Bob Bradley. Personally, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, but critics abound. They are impatient and eager to see the new ways and implementations at work. Now!

The balance may have gone slightly askew in Honduras, where some of the manager’s personnel choice seemed slightly ambitious; perhaps just a little more experience within the team’s “back five” – four defenders plus defensive midfielder Danny Williams – would have rescued the point. That just goes to prove that this is a moving target.

Idealism is wonderful, and it may serve the United States well at Brazil 2014 – but it won’t amount to a hill of practice cones if Klinsmann and Co. lose their way en route and fail (egad!) to qualify.

Which brings us back to Donovan.

Assuming the 30-year-old attacker has resupplied his depleted stores of “want to,” he will provide a boost to the attack, not to mention some missing diversity and ideas. Donovan’s critics are legion, but any reasonable person will conclude that his talents could be put to use at the moment.

Klinsmann cannot like that Donovan has come up missing so often from camps and matches. He has said as much.

FoxSports.com’s Leander Schaerlaeckens asked a good question in this piece:

Will Donovan commit firmly to remaining available to the team at least through the 2014 World Cup? If he won’t, there’s little sense in once again building around a player who openly admits that he’s had “motivational issues” throughout his career. Donovan’s return might be brief. If it turns out the prolonged off-season didn’t bring him the inner peace he has often spoken about seeking, there’s no telling when he’ll walk away again.

That article doesn’t address what may even be a more important point: will the players accept Donovan? In the less likely even that Donovan’s presence becomes a polarizing element, his return could do more damage than good. That’s a whole other jar of pickles.

As for Klinsmann, his pragmatic side will surely kick in. Donovan’s speed (of thought and feet) makes the United States dangerous on the counter. In the regular run of play Donovan is usefully versatile, more than credible as a set-up man or as a finisher near goal.

He’s also a good delivery man on set pieces; Omar Gonzalez (now front and center in the qualifying push) can be a real bother on attacking restarts, but only if the service is precise.

Plus, don’t underestimate the man’s psychological impact on match day; opponents’ awareness of Donovan’s ability creates pressure and alters strategic and tactical approaches. One for instance:  with the program’s all-time leading scorer on the field, Clint Dempsey gets a little less attention.

Again, this is all about where Donovan’s motivation lands, about the ability to rediscover the requisite fire and desire. Talented as he is, even Donovan cannot perform at international level if he cannot light the fuses of ambition rediscovered.

(MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann addressed Donovan’s career crisis back in December)

  1. arjanroghanchi - Feb 18, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    Am I the only one who thinks this whole ordeal just shows how soft Donovan is? Any kind of deviation from what was perceived as total commitment of body and mind by the likes of Beckham or Henry is and was met with sarcastic and caustic commentary pieces from our soccer media (guys like Leander and Wahl do that whiny piece better than anyone).

    Landycakes taking the beginning of the season off and the general consensus is “at least he is coming back!!”.

    If I was in the USMNT camp and played any kind of leadership role I would be in Klinsi’s office telling him to keep Landon far away from the team.

    If I was Klinsi, I’d call Landon and tell him not to worry about form for the international stage, because his career with the USMNT is over.

    30yrs old and the guy is burnt out? This is such a joke it is almost embarrassing that it is a story.

    Anyone writing the treatise about why the game still hasn’t blown up here should use this episode as exhibit A.

    • charliej11 - Feb 18, 2013 at 2:10 PM

      If he is 30, then he was playing/starring in the World Cup when he was 19. Kind of comparing apples to oranges when you talk of burning out at only 30.

      I think he has a certain level of responsibility to all of us that would still be giving it our all if the roles were reversed, but that is countered by it is his choice. There is a good chance we don’t make it to Brazil without him…he is a game changer and away from Howard no one else is. So rejecting him is just dumb in my opinion.

    • unclemosesgreen - Feb 18, 2013 at 2:34 PM

      You may not be alone in that, but I respectfully disagree. I give him credit for taking time away when he felt that he needed it.

      He was kidnapped from normal society in 1997 as a national team player. 16 years of constant soccer was enough to make him need some time off. I certainly don’t think that being wired this way makes him “soft” in any way, or indicative of some larger problem with U.S. Soccer.

    • crnelson10 - Feb 18, 2013 at 8:14 PM

      “30yrs old and the guy is burnt out? This is such a joke it is almost embarrassing that it is a story.”

      Clearly, you’re a professional athlete who has gone approximately 4 years without any off season to speak of. You probably know a lot about what it means to be the face and load bearing element of an entire nation’s interest in your particular sport. You probably then know a lot about the psychology involved since you’ve been there and all. Why don’t you tell us all about it?

    • schmutzdeck - Feb 23, 2013 at 4:34 PM

      arjanroghanchi,

      How old are you?

      I’m willing to bet those of you who do not recognize burnt out as a valid performance related issue in the work place are on the younger side.

      As an older person I am well aware of the realities of burnt out. I am also aware that people like you will never understand until it happens to you. Then you’ll understand.

      Donovavn is 30 but he has been America’s Golden Boy and the face of soccer for about 14 years straight. That’s a long time to be the main man for US soccer.

  2. pjm1120 - Feb 18, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    It’s soccer…. Who cares?!

    • Steve Davis - Feb 18, 2013 at 2:08 PM

      I could live a million years and never fully understand why someone (perhaps without enough on their plate, with too much spare time) would take the time to go onto a soccer blog just to say “Who cares about soccer?” Truly boggling. Oh, well … now back to all the good commenters who actually add to our conversations here …

    • charliej11 - Feb 18, 2013 at 2:12 PM

      I would love to meet idiots like this. Do you live in Seattle ?

    • crnelson10 - Feb 18, 2013 at 8:16 PM

      All the people who would normally read this blog. That’s who cares.

  3. unclemosesgreen - Feb 18, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    A fit, motivated and committed Landon Donovan would be welcomed back with open arms by USMNT. They certainly need that L.D.

  4. arjanroghanchi - Feb 18, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    Winners don’t take extended breaks in southern California and miss critical training and competition. Can anyone imagine Andrea Pirlo, Carles Puyol, or Miroslav Klose missing games for club or country? Especially in the heat of WCQ? Not a chance. They are all several years older than Landycakes and bear a much greater burden of expectation from their fanbases. Why make excuses for Landon? If Galaxy fans want to welcome him back, fine. But keep him and his losers’s attitude away from the USMNT.

    • crnelson10 - Feb 18, 2013 at 8:18 PM

      I would argue that they don’t bear anything like the burden that Landon carries. Those teams are all stacked full of superstars to help take some of that weight. Not to mention, none of those players have to go on loan to EPL sides in their offseason to prove to cynical fans that they can cut it at the highest level.

  5. dfstell - Feb 18, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    As a Galaxy and USMNT fan, I’ll be glad to have him back because I think he’s a good player still.

    BUT….this whole thing about how he’s suffering from burnout is such BS, especially when you hear people justify it because he’s “been playing professional soccer since he was 18!!!” Hell…many people reading this column have been working professionally for a LOT longer than 12 years. We’ve all had time away from family, long road trips, crappy bosses, etc. except that we don’t get to retire when we’re 35…..No…..at 35, we still have 30 years to go.

    I’m just not sympathetic to burnout. He’s not working any longer hours than a LOT of us.

  6. lykou11601 - Feb 18, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    I am getting annoyed of all these people saying they don’t want Landon near the USMNT. People always seem to find something wrong with him. They used to say that he didn’t challenge himself and could only shine in the MLS. He then has two loan spells at Everton and does what? Shines. Then, he takes on world class talent at the WC, scores 3 goals, played a vital role in the other 2, and yet… He’s lazy, over-rated, and needs to stay away from the MNT. Donovan didn’t just get up and quit. He warned fans and coaches that he saw the twilight of his career. He gave us time, and then confirmed he needed some time off. If he decides he wants to continue his national team career, coach and team mates alike will be more than accepting. Tim Howard, arguably the biggest leader on the team, has stated that he would love Landon back. Why? Because he understands how much Landon brings to the team in areas where it lacks. All of these Nay-Sayers will be cheering when LD gives us some goals in qualifying and the world cup.

  7. wfjackson3 - Feb 18, 2013 at 11:56 PM

    It all comes down to this: I am not Landon Donovan and I don’t know what it takes to be Landon Donovan. I HOPE he is feeling good and ready to come back. LD is that missing piece in the USMNT and coule make it lots easier for us to turn that corner to JK’s preferred style. But he doesn’t owe us anything and if it doesn’t work out with him and the USMNT, I will be happy with the memories he has already given us.

  8. creek0512 - Feb 19, 2013 at 1:38 AM

    Wow, so much hate for no reason. He’s no different than Michael Jordan except a lot of US soccer fans are tools.

    • unclemosesgreen - Feb 19, 2013 at 6:19 AM

      Agree on the ridiculous amount of hate and the U.S. fans being tools.

      Vehemently disagree on M.J. – he was suspended by David Stern and forced to do outpatient gambling addiction rehab. The baseball thing was part of his rehab, something to keep him out of trouble by occupying his time and obsessive nature. Also he was the greatest player of all time in a sport that is much more popular and accessible in the U.S. No one is saying that about L.D.

    • teamperkins11 - Feb 19, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      MJ stepped away because of a crisis caused by the death of his father. I don’t think the two are really comparable. MJ was in a mental state where he wanted to hold on to the lasting memory of his last championship with his dad and live his Dad’s childhood dream of MJ being a baseball player. LD just needs a break because of the non-stop grind of playing and his loss of passion for playing for reasons that are sports related.

      But I do agree that the LD hate is a little excessive. If he does not want to be a part of things then so be it. He does no owe anybody anything.

      As to whether the players would accept him back is kind of a dumb question. These are all professional athletes, they will get along just fine with or without him.

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