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What Landon Donovan did last night … THAT is why he will be in Brazil next summer

Jul 17, 2013, 5:18 PM EDT

Landon Donovan, Kenny Cunningham

Costa Rica packed the back, and knew how to make a strategically cynical approach work.

With five defenders and four midfielders organized tightly in front of them, there was precious little operating space for U.S. attackers Tuesday in Hartford. The occasional cross got through, but generally arrived with negligible threat.

As I said last night, U.S. problem solvers were in short supply. Jose Torres seemed to have something crafty in him before the break, but then ran out of energy or lost initiative or something. Stuart Holden didn’t appear to have the legs or the confidence to launch the late runs that tend to sew confusion and leave someone open somewhere.

The U.S. right side (Michael Parkhurst and Alejandro Bedoya) was a big bundle of “Meh.”

But the breakthrough did arrive … and it came off Landon Donovan’s alert mind and his smooth right foot. Credit Brek Shea for a lung-busting run of faith, one that so many players might not have seen or might not have attempted in a match that never meant much to the ongoing tournament. (Although, as we know, these moments certainly could mean something in the ongoing, bigger picture player evaluations.)

But the goal was really about Donovan – and that is why the national team’s all-time leading scorer and assist man will be in Brazil next year. Book it. (All this with the usual caveat of injury, obviously.)

(MORE: U.S. beats Costa Rica on late Donovan-Shea hookup)

(MORE: What else we learned from Tuesday’s U.S. win)

Donovan is a game-changer. Period. Even when he’s not at his best, that is the kind of moment he, and precious few others in the U.S. pool, can manufacture.

Do not underestimate the savvy elements of that one pass:

  • The vision to know that Shea was there.
  • The confidence to try a 40-yard pass on a first-time hit; so many lesser players would have taken a controlling touch, a less aggressive and safer course of action – and one that would have likely seen the United States forfeit the initiative.
  • The instant understanding that to allow Costa Rica, which had sent men forward on a set piece attempt, to retreat once again into that defensive crouch would have been throwing away one of the best chances his team had left of finally breaking through.
  • The skill to pull off such a thing. That’s not a terribly difficult ball to hit – but it’s hardly a piece of cake to put it in the right spot. Donovan situated that ball between defenders, out of reach of Costa Rican goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton and into a spot where Shea never had to break stride.

If you watch the video closely, you see U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann point toward Donovan as Joe Corona gets the ball. The manager knows where it needs to go at that point; he understands that Donovan can do something highly productive with it, even if so many others could not.

For Donovan, this Gold Cup was all about proving he can fit in, about proving he has the will and the dedication and that he isn’t just along for the ride.

The ability, the experience and the high-level acumen are still there. Klinsmann knows it; the guy is no dummy.

Moments like that one reiterate it, and reminds us all why getting Donovan’s mind right will mean a lot in Brazil next summer.

Watch the goal one more time:

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  1. talgrath - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    Credit where credit is due there, Shea did have the presence of mind to realize he had space and time for a two touch to avoid hitting it wrong; a lot of strikers and midfielders would have tried a single touch power shot to bury it and miss (even if the keeper did get a piece of it).

    • Steve Davis - Jul 17, 2013 at 9:35 PM

      Yeah, for sure. I wrote that very thing last night. Not the very best finish, as you said, but take the touch, glancing up and just getting the doggone thing on goal and giving himself a CHANCE to score was the essential element there.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jul 19, 2013 at 6:56 AM

        As anyone who played the game knows – sometimes all you have to do is get it on frame. How many times in that position have you seen a player sky it 20 yards over or scuff it or drag it wide or even miss entirely.

        The entire counter-attack was straight off the top shelf, all 3 players involved did exactly what they should have done, and did it immediately. That takes skill, wherewithal and training – and they only made it look easy.

  2. jrocknstuff - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    Great stuff all around. Wasn’t the easiest thing to do for Corona to peel away from the defender and hit a perfect ball up the wing to Donovan either. As soon as they cleared the box it was pretty much flawless all around.

  3. hildezero - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:53 PM

    Donovan will be in the roster for the World Cup for sure.

  4. tonyperugini2013 - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Love this article. I could not say better myself. In my view, Donovan ranks amongst the best in the world for having good vision and creativity. He may not have good dribble skill and physical strength for challenging or counter challenging, or very fast reaction stryker; however, the USMNT needs him for good vision and creativity.

  5. tonyperugini2013 - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    Oh! One more thing. Donovan has been a great game changer in the past, why wouldn’t he be the game changer for the USMNT in Brazil?

  6. adiaz9201 - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    He is only 31 but it seems his been around forever, he is still on his prime, yes he should be en route to brazil!

  7. charliej11 - Jul 18, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    All the people who “want to hate Donovan because he didn’t go to Europe crushing all their theories of how US nat team players will develop better there” are not allow to watch the replay.

  8. charliej11 - Jul 18, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    The great thing about that play is just the hussle. Shea was in the box with everyone else, just beats them down the field. Donovan ditto, though not as big a run.

    Most guys just don’t have the ability to see what is going to happen next. LD does. He runs to space downfield and is going to run the counter with whoever else has the heart to run with him….and whoever does is going to score, or assist him scoring. The Costa Rica midfield didn’t have the heart ( or legs ).

    The other great thing is I have posted many times, this type of counter is why LD will start in Brazil. We need it, whether he wimped out this winter ( and he did ) or not.

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