Skip to content

Graham Zusi keeps making it harder for Landon Donovan to get back into U.S. national team

Jun 19, 2013, 12:48 PM EDT

Graham Zusi, Arnold Peralta AP

SANDY, Utah – The more Graham Zusi delivers performances like the one in Tuesday’s second half, when the Americans finally punched a hole in the Honduran defensive dam, the more Landon Donovan’s return to the national team scene disappears into doubt.

Donovan is on the provisional roster for the Gold Cup, and he will probably be called once the 23-man roster is handed into CONCACAF – and presumably made public that day – on June 27.

But there is a little bud of a theory developing around the U.S. camp that Donovan’s estrangement could become more or less permanent, that the team is doing fine without him – and it’s hard to argue the point at the moment. That could change when the opposition improves, but for now …

It’s certainly fair to debate whether Donovan’s presence next year in Brazil – We can all agree that the United States is going, right? – would be an asset. If he can add just a little more polish to his game with the Galaxy, folding in more consistency to the performances, Donovan would certainly be an upgrade over other attackers in the pool now appearing regularly on Jurgen Klinsmann’s depth chart.

(MORE: U.S. player ratings vs. Honduras)

Klinsmann clearly isn’t happy with the message Donovan delivered last year through some of the player’s choices regarding the national team. Donovan maintains that he did what he needed to do to prolong his career – and it’s hard to argue that point, too.

But if Klinsmann wants to cut ties in a bigger way … well, what better time to do so than now? Take the PR hit now before the relatively low-profile Gold Cup, get it over with and move on well ahead of next year’s World Cup, when Donovan’s roster omission would potentially become a talking point distraction.

Which brings us back to Zusi, who was nominal in presence through the first 45 against Honduras beyond those set piece dandies (something else he does expertly, helping to mitigate Donovan’s absence). Zusi isn’t quite as versatile as Donovan, unable to deliver crosses with either foot the way Donovan can. We saw it once Tuesday as the Sporting KC attacker got into position along the left but badly over-hit a centering ball.

(MORE: What we learned about the United States in Tuesday’s win)

Zusi also misses Donovan’s burst of speed and instincts near goal, too. But while the dropoff is noticeable in those areas, it certainly isn’t fierce. Plus, other elements of Zusi’s game, the tidy work in tight spots, the defensive tracking and the overall awareness, are roughly equal.

(Talking about awareness: How sweet was that dummy to help spring Fabian Johnson, which set up Jozy Altidore’s game winner?)

Zusi was a major influence on the U.S. attack throughout the second half; almost everything dangerous after the break went through him at some point, arranging balls for Clint Dempsey, aiming more of the dead-eye restarts toward Omar Gonzalez and finding more of the spaces against a tiring Honduran defense.

(Some of his slow first half was about Brad Evans, who was quite conservative along the right; a bigger push from the makeshift U.S. outside back would have forced Honduran defenders into choices, which would have pried open more room to roam for Zusi.)

Either way, here’s how the MLS All-Star explained the change from first half to second:

“It was a gritty game [early], very physical, not a whole lot going on,” Zusi said. “A lot of possession changes toward the middle of the field. I think our play in the first half wore them down a little bit and it allowed us, in the second half, to spread the field a little bit and get in behind them a little more often. So the second half we could be more dangerous in creating opportunities.”

Latest Posts
  1. LIVE – At the half: Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo have Real Madrid, Barcelona level

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT

    Real Madrid CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Real Madrid CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga

    Neymar and Ronaldo stealing the show so far, as four on yellows for Barca. Live updates, here:

  2. VIDEO: Manuel Pellegrini “not disappointed” by Manchester City’s defeat

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-WEST HAM-MAN CITY FBL-ENG-PR-WEST HAM-MAN CITY

    Pellegrini magnanimous in defeat, but City could be eight points off top spot by the end of the weekend.

  3. Liverpool 0-0 Hull City: Clean sheet small consolation for rigid Reds

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT

    Reds thwarted by stubborn Tigers, as Balotelli fires a blank once again.

  4. West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Crystal Palace: Baggies find deserved point

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:04 PM EDT

    West Bromwich Albion v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    West Brom won the shots battle 17-8 and carried nearly 70 percent of the possession by the time all was said and done.

  5. Southampton 1-0 Stoke City: Dominant Saints only need one goal

    Oct 25, 2014, 11:59 AM EDT

    Southampton v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    It was 1-0 at half, and it was all the Saints would need.

  6. Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Leicester City (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Oct 25, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT

    Swansea City v Rotherham United - Capital One Cup Second Round Getty Images

    Eighth-place Swans will host the suddenly-struggling Foxes as both teams look to rebuild momentum after good starts to the season.

  7. FOLLOW LIVE – Luis Suarez starts for Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in El Clasico, full lineups

    Oct 25, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT

    Barcelona B v Indonesia U19: Friendly Getty Images

    Follow El Clasico here with live updates, as Suarez starts with his four month ban over.

  8. Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Hull City (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Oct 25, 2014, 9:50 AM EDT

    Balotelli AP

    Will Mario Balotelli score his first Premier League goal and get Liverpool going? Watch live, here.

  9. West Ham United 2-1 Manchester City: Hammers stun reigning champs

    Oct 25, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-WEST HAM-MAN CITY FBL-ENG-PR-WEST HAM-MAN CITY

    Hammers win third-straight PL game, as City’s bad week gets worse.

  10. Watch Live: West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Oct 25, 2014, 9:24 AM EDT

    Crystal Palace v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    The Baggies are two points above the drop with 9 points, while Palace’s 8 points have them slightly less safe.

  11. Watch Live: Southampton vs. Stoke City (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Oct 25, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT

    Asmir Begovic smashes another long kick forward as the wind swirled around the Britannia Stadium. Getty Images

    Around this time last season, Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic scored a goal in the wind against Southampton.

  12. Now World Cup bound, USWNT can send message in CONCACAF final

    Oct 25, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT

    Tobin Heath, Liliana Mercado AP

    Before the tournament, we asked whether they’d roar, and so far the US women have done so.

  13. Louis van Gaal hails Jose Mourinho, beams about close relationship

    Oct 25, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT

    van-gaal-mourinho Getty Images

    Van Gaal: “He’s very special but he is very special for me because we’ve continued our relationship.”

  14. VIDEO: Brendan Rodgers concerned about Liverpool’s defensive issues

    Oct 25, 2014, 8:25 AM EDT

    Just what is going wrong at the back for Liverpool? Brendan Rodgers has a theory…

  15. WATCH: Premier League online via NBC Sports Live Extra – Week 9

    Oct 25, 2014, 7:02 AM EDT

    Live Extra

    Where and how to watch every PL game during Week 9 live online or via the app.

Featured video

PST Extra: Can United beat Chelsea?