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Landon Donovan and a Gold Cup squeeze? He deserves better

May 16, 2013, 10:15 AM EDT

U.S. national soccer player Landon Donovan controls the ball during a practice session at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City Reuters

The “compromise” on the ongoing Landon Donovan debate – should he or should he not find a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster, set to be announced later today? – is a Golden one in some minds.

Leave him off the United States’ “senior” roster for the summer, the one that will compete in two major friendlies, but then add the program’s all-time leading scorer for the Gold Cup in July. That U.S. roster will be made up primarily of “junior-level” members of the extended national team pool.

And that’s the point: Donovan is no “junior level” member. By definition, the program’s all-time leading scorer is no junior member.

Jurgen Klinsmann has laid out a plan for summer roster building. It’s about the best strategic use of the extended pool while targeting success in those critical World Cup qualifiers and the far less significant Gold Cup. (The Gold Cup is CONCACAF’s semi-annual fight for regional bragging rights.)

(MORE: Donovan makes his case in destroying Philadelphia)

Everyone knows what Donovan can and cannot do when fit and sharp. The only question that needs asking for today (and for today’s announcement) is just that: is he fit and sharp. Despite last night’s big performance, you can rightly question whether Donovan is “there” yet to impact games internationally, consistently.

More of that, and he will surely be “there” by July.

But it’s fair to ask whether having Donovan on the Gold Cup is the right thing? (It is especially fair to ask because I get the suspicion that very thing is going to happen.)

Yes, it will be important for Donovan to establish himself back in the U.S. locker room. But the players with which he needs to re-build relationships are not the players who will be in the U.S. locker room during the Gold Cup.

Meanwhile, Donovan has responsibilities to his MLS club, too.

The bottom line is that asking Donovan to participate in the Gold Cup feels like a litmus test of his loyalty to U.S. program. And that makes it feel wrong.

Yes, Donovan has balked on U.S. invitations before when he probably should not have. But that was at a darker time in his career, when he was just hanging on, grappling with whether he even wanted to remain in the professional game.

Donovan has done plenty for the United States program and for U.S. soccer at large over the years. He should be past litmus tests. If he can assist in the World Cup qualifying efforts, then great. Let him.

Otherwise, leave the Gold Cup for the Will Bruins, the Mix Diskeruds, the Sean Johnsons, etc.

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