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Where Landon Donovan might play for the United States in coming World Cup qualifiers

Sep 4, 2013, 5:04 PM EDT

Donovan graphic

A few things we know about Landon Donovan as we ponder what might be ricocheting around in Jurgen Klinsmann’s brain ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica and Tuesday’s bitter border battle against Mexico:

Donovan can play pretty much any attacking position. The Galaxy and U.S. all-time leading scorer is clearly not at his best when manning the most advanced position; Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson and perhaps even Aron Johannsson are better options on the current 23-man roster.

Donovan lately has played most frequently in the second forward position, manning this role for the Galaxy, alongside Robbie Keane, and for the national team, where he sat slightly deeper in the midfield during that Gold Cup burst of statement matches. But that’s Clint Dempsey’s position in a U.S. shirt, and not even Donovan is taking that spot from Dempsey.

But where Donovan has aligned himself tactically lately does not mean much. Why is that? Because we also know that Klinsmann never fears placing his men into positions with which they are lesser familiar (although positions they have, perhaps, occupied previously).

Geoff Cameron as a hold midfielder? Sure!

DaMarcus Beasley or Jose Torres as a left back? Let’s give that a go! Eddie Johnson out wide? Sounds good!

Yes, Klinsmann will gladly roll the dice – and it’s a low risk gambit with someone like Donovan, who has a great soccer brain.

What that means, in a word, is “options.”

Look at the diagram above for where the 31-year-old attacker has been most often positioned in recent years.

source: Getty Images

Donovan is the United States’ all-time scoring leader with 56 goals.

He played frequently on the right last year for L.A., tending  to lean heavily inside and take on some of the advanced playmaking chores. That was mostly about providing balance for David Beckham’s tendency to create from deeper spots, and the Englishman’s tendency to drift right, the best place for whipping in those signature crosses.

But Donovan has also played along the left, both for the Galaxy and for his country. That’s where Bob Bradley used Donovan frequently in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup (and then slightly less once Dempsey begin playing out wide for the United States, as he did so much for Fulham back then.)

Again, Donovan leaned significantly inside, just as Dempsey did from that left-sided spot, clearing room for overlapping outside backs and adding pressure to defenses through wisely timed, diagonal runs.

Back in earlier days Donovan sometimes lined up a bit further back in the formation for the Galaxy as a central, attacking midfielder. The opposing defense that could not track his driving runs from that spot was a defense about to get shredded.

So, back to where Donovan lines up Friday? Some could depend on Altidore’s health. Either way, the best guess is that Donovan will come off the bench, a useful replacement for Graham Zusi on the right, or for Dempsey in the middle or for Fabian Johnson (or whomever lines up left). Whichever man looks gassed or just isn’t getting the job done … in comes Donovan.

(MORE: Donovan talks about his latest role with the national team)

  1. hildezero - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:16 PM

    I like the left triangle. Afterall, that is his best position.

    • tariencole - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:50 PM

      I agree, he’s done best, IMHO, from the left side. He’s not going to play further back, because that’s Bradley’s role. And no one is going to trump MB90 right now. I think the best lineup is sliding Johnson back to LB, playing LD at LM, Zusi on the opposite side (with the freedom to swap flanks), and then the spine of Altidore (or EJ if Jozy can’t go), Deuce, and Bradley. Then I’d have Cameron shielding the defense.

      • boscoesworld - Sep 4, 2013 at 6:55 PM

        I agree with moving FJ to left back and LD to mid. I thought keeping Beasley there would be best but realistically FJ is a superior player to DM wherever they play. FJ can still burn up the left flank and provide the service. That would really be putting the best 11 on the field.

  2. outlawsoccer - Sep 4, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    its all bS,
    Donovan behind the no 1 forward,
    clint taking zusi place next to Bradley with
    wings Fabian and bedoya, that is how
    klinsmann will go.
    if its jozy or eddie it will depend on health.
    eddie landon
    Fabian Michael clint bedoya
    demarcus gonzalez besler Cameron
    this is what I expect, we get clint and landon starting
    if jozy is out and why push a dude with a sore hammy when
    you have landon eddie clint and aaron??? not too smart
    so jozy will have to be really strong to be in there. he will
    have had a whole week to sit and stretch it out.
    in a perfect world
    jozy altidore landon Donovan
    sacha kljestan Michael Bradley clint Dempsey alej bedoya
    Castillo gonzalez goodson besler

  3. outlawsoccer - Sep 4, 2013 at 6:12 PM

    I have seen nothing in zusi j jones or f Johnson
    to change this lineup nothing.
    the guys coming on landon jozy and bedoya
    as well as sacha kljestan.
    our issues are still defense especially the side backs.
    klinny has used Fabian back there but he favors demarcus
    against central American players. all in all klinsy would like all euro guys
    aaron clint
    Michael mix graham alejandro
    brooks Cameron parkhurst you get the idea chandler
    its all euro for klinsy,

  4. drewvt6 - Sep 4, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    I don’t get the attraction to Klejstan? What has he done besides look sorely out of place against good competition? Is it his porn-stache?

    Klejstan might be able to perform against Costa Rica, but thats about his ceiling. Mexico is well over his head and speed of play/decision making.

  5. tonyinquakeland - Sep 4, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    I’m not sure why Donovan doesn’t take “Dempsey’s spot”. After all, combing Club and Country, Donovan is the US’s most in-form attacking player. i also think his assist record also shows he is the one more likely to combine with a strike partner to create chances.

    You are right, however, that wherever they line up, they will drift and switch positions. I think Donovan in the withdrawn forward role, Dempsey out wide on the left, with Fabin Johnson to provide attacking width when Dempsey drifts inside. (Needless to say, a healthy Jozy up top and Bradley in the middle. I’d probably go with Bedoya out wide right.)

  6. krazymunky - Sep 4, 2013 at 7:03 PM

    Donovan as keeper? Why not!

  7. hildezero - Sep 4, 2013 at 7:48 PM

    Hey! The man can play anywhere…

  8. - Sep 4, 2013 at 10:54 PM

    I hope Jozy is fit enough to start against Costa Rica….I would also rather Donovan has the second striker and dempsey on the left, cutting in…Then have suzi on the right…Bradley and Cameron as the 2 CM.
    Fabian johnson as the leftback..gonzalez and belser as the 2 CB andoakhurt as the right back.

    I think Jermaine Jones should be on the bench and someone else should get a look at his position…Jermaine was terrible last match, but I dont think he suck…but it is fair to give someone else a chance to see whether they can bring more to the table then j johnson.

  9. mfmaxpower - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    Donovan should be playing as the #10, not Dempsey. Deuce just isn’t cut out for creating like he needs to in that position. His link-up play is just so-so, his incisive forward passes rare.

    Personally, I’m all for seeing Deuce go back to playing as an LAM, crashing into the box from there. That’s when he’s been at his best and put in his top all-round performances. That’s not to say that he can’t be an effective SS, but when he plays there, is the team at its best? I dunno and I’d like to experiment with him back on the left with this squad.

    Another option is to play Zusi as a traditional winger who doesn’t rotate much, stick Donovan on the left and Deuce in the middle, but have those to continually rotate as circumstances permit. Having one of them crash in from the left wing would also make sense if you’re getting you’re width on the left from Beasley or whoever plays fullback.

    Boom. Problem solved.

  10. Buckwheat - Sep 5, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    I think that it does NOT matter which side that LD or Deuce kline up. They will switch routinely through out the game.
    Here is what I think the line up will be:
    Jozy Aaron
    LD Deuce
    J. Jones Bradley
    Fabian J. Gonzo Besler Cameron


  11. hildezero - Sep 5, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    This is my lineup: 4-2-3-1

    ————LD Zusi Deuce———–
    ————Jones Bradley————
    -Fabian Gonzo Besler Cameron-

    It’s a big possibility we might see this formation and lineup against Costa Rica.

    • Buckwheat - Sep 5, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      EJ verses Jozy? Are you nuts? Assuming Jozy is healthy, it is a no brainer. Aaron is better that EJ.

  12. hildezero - Sep 6, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Are you an idiot? It doesn’t matter if Jozy is healthy. All it matters is for him to come of the bench and not risk an injury to be ready against Mexico and he has a yellow card. Also, NO! Johannsson is not better than EJ.

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