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Landon Donovan knows he’s in a fight for spot on U.S. national team

May 19, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT

Mexico v United States Getty Images

Landon Donovan is no longer a lock for the U.S. national team. I repeat, Donovan is no longer a lock.

The USA’s all-time leading scorer knows he is up against it to make the 23-man squad for the World Cup in Brazil this summer.

Donovan, 32, has been back in Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup plans since impressing in the Gold Cup in 2013 following his self-imposed sabbatical during the 2012 offseason. However this season Donovan has failed to score in 7 games for the LA Galaxy and he knows he has plenty to prove between now and June 2 when the USA’s final roster is announced.

MORE: All the latest 2014 World Cup news

Speaking to MLSsoccer.com’s Nick Firchau before training at Stanford University, Donovan likened this World Cup camp to his quest to get into the 2002 squad for the tournament in Japan and South Korea. His stint as a USMNT player has gone full circle.

“For me personally, I liken it to 2002,” Donovan said. “In 2006 and 2010 I knew for the most part, unless I was awful, that I was going to make the team. This time it’s more similar to ’02, when I wasn’t sure. In that way, it’s as competitive for me as it’s been in a long time. You can really make the case for any of the guys here to make the squad,” he added. “So there are going to be some difficult decisions for the coaches.”

Will Donovan’s spot on the plane to Brazil really be one of those difficult decisions?

His versatility is key for the USMNT as he can slot in up top, behind a target forward and anywhere across the midfield. Plus Donovan’s experience of playing in three previous World Cup tournaments means he knows exactly what to expect in Brazil. If you look around at his competitors for a wide midfield spot you come across the likes of Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, Brad Davis, Julian Green and perhaps Fabian Johnson or Aron Johannsson who can both operate as wide attackers in a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation.

Donovan, like never before, has competition to get into the USA’s 23-man squad, let alone the starting lineup.

He knows it.

  1. bobinkc - May 19, 2014 at 7:10 PM

    I hate to be nasty about this, but there are a few other MLS players than Landon Donovan. But since we hear comparatively nothing this year about MLS, why shouldn’t we just hear about one player in the League? When I have to dig through 25-30 articles to find one or two titles about MLS, it makes me wonder about why I keep coming here. And, yes, I know, don’t let the door hit me on the way out.

    • mlsconvert88888 - May 20, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      Yeah, when the website is called Pro Soccer Talk, you would think that means plenty of coverage for a league that actually calls it soccer. Not so much though.

  2. soccherblog - May 19, 2014 at 7:46 PM

    this is no way a revelation… I’ve been saying it for months and continually told that I was wrong and didn’t understand, along with some choice sexist comments.

    It comes down to this Klinnsman doesn’t respect him or his lack of work ethic. He has made that pointedly and abundantly clear, time and time again

  3. lewpuls - May 19, 2014 at 8:20 PM

    I don’t see how you can leave out such an experienced and successful player.

    Think also about this: if Donovan is left out and the USA crash-and-burn – which unfortunately seems likely even if Donovan is in – who’s going to catch holy hell from fans? Klinsmann.

  4. rphillish - May 19, 2014 at 9:03 PM

    I feel like I’m the only one who thinks all this talk about “is he going, is he not” is crazy. I know Klinnsman isn’t the worlds biggest Donovan fan, but come on. Does the US really have the depth and talent to leave one of it’s most accomplished veterans home? I wouldn’t think so. I remember last year Dempsey wasn’t having the best of time for club and country, but no one was saying, “hey, maybe we leave Dempsey home.” Now Donovan paces himself, and everyone is going nuts.

    • mknow406a - May 19, 2014 at 9:09 PM

      When LD came back from his break, I had no heartburn in him earning his way back into the fold. Time, and sports, wait for no person, be it Micheal Jordan, Wayne Gretzky or LD. In his absence, others stepped up and flourished. He needed to unseat them if he could. After the Gold Cup, I thought he was back. I thought he had earned his spot again… maybe not a starter for 3 matches, but a solid contributor and leader… and then I started to see the cracks. The first CCL match against Tijuana I saw him break free, turn his defender, run onto a ball over the top and he was gone… except, he wasn’t gone… he got caught from behind by the very defender he left for dead… I honestly couldn’t remember LD EVER being caught from behind when released like that. It was pre-seasonish… ok, So he’s not in top form. No big deal. It happens… Then a week later in the second leg, I watch him get chased down from behind not once, but at least twice… What? So much of his game is predicated on his pace, running by defenders and creating space by putting defenders on their heels… so his loss of pace became a bit concerning. Then came the friendly v. Mexico. He started on the bench… hmmm… maybe JK noticed the pace thing too. Then LD comes on as a sub… and he looks pretty out of sorts to be honest. Players making runs to dangerous areas and him holding the ball rather than being able to get to the ‘seam’ to make the pass, no break away pace, defenders again catching up to his play from behind… but the defining moment for me was when LD was isolated 1 v 1 with Marquez… the same guy commentators were saying 15 minutes into the Mexico v. Nigeria match that he needed to come off because his lack of pace was killing Mexico’s back 4’s ability to hold a line and he was too slow for WC competition… and simply put, LD did not have the speed to beat Marquez. He couldn’t back the defender up. He couldn’t create the space to cut in front and he obviously didn’t believe he could just run by him… LD talked about a knee injury afterwards. I’m inclined to take him at his word. But it begs the question: If LD’s knee is so bad that he can’t beat a defender as slow as Marquez 1 v 1, who in the Group of Death can he beat? I’m not saying that there is NO roll for LD in Brazil, but if LD’s pace isn’t there, should he beat out Boyd or Wondo (if a forward) or Bedoya or Diskerud (if a midfielder) based solely on reputation alone? The players can battle that out in camp, but if JK decides that a LD at 60-70% is not the best option, I am fine with that. It is more a tribute to what LD has helped build over his career than any sort of disrespect from JK…

    • mknow406a - May 19, 2014 at 9:18 PM

      It’s way more than pacing himself… It’s more his pace is leaving himself. The CCL quarter finals, he was chased down from behind MULTIPLE times. The same thing against Mexico. So much of his game is predicated on pace, that once that goes, he’s nowhere near the threat (as opposed to Dempsey). Maybe it’s the knee, but is it going to be any better in Brazil? At this point a 100% Diskerud is better than a 60% LD… Bryan McBride is still revered in Italy for battling through the elbow… just because he’s ‘accomplished’ does he get to go too? It really seems like the US fans want to stifle the maturation of the USMNT by refusing to accept that their past heroes (LD, Bocanagra) are past their prime and there are better options now…

      • sdbeisbol - May 20, 2014 at 1:45 PM

        People need to realize that there’s more to Donovan than his speed/pace. Yes, it’s a huge part of his game but he can read the game better than a lot other of his USMNT’s teammates. IMO, his passing is top notch especially while attacking which is why he is not only the top scorer in US history but also has the most assists in US history. He’s going to be in Brazil not because of his past but because he can adjust to a new style of play and still succeed.

      • drewvt6 - May 20, 2014 at 6:20 PM

        It seems like you haven’t watched Donovan in a while. I’m willing to bet whatever issues he had with his knee were affecting him in the time frame you use as Example 1, 1a, 1b and 1c.

        His separation speed is what makes him a special player. People have wanted to count him down from the time he quite Bayer Leverkusen and came back to San Jose. Thing is, on the big stage he has been phenomenal. I’ll take him at 80-90% of his formal self over Brad Davis 10 times out of ten.

      • mknow406a - May 20, 2014 at 9:53 PM

        @drewvt6: No, I haven’t seen him since the Mexico friendly… haven’t seen any matches MLS, EPL, UEFA, etc. since the Mexico friendly which is a COMPLETELY different issue, but… Here’s what I can’t get away from: In 7 MLS and 2 CCL matches in 2014, LD has 0 goals and only 1 assist. His team needed him to step up in Tijuana and it didn’t happen nor did it happen in the Mexico friendly. At what point does it become a trend?

        Here’s a new scenario… let’s take JK at his word about a couple of things… 1. He wants ‘replacements’ for spots and 2. LD is only viewed as a forward. Given that Jozy and Dempsey are the 2 starters, who is viewed as the ‘natural’ replacements for them? For Deuce, the answer is probably Aron Johansson. AJ’s not loaded with speed, but has an impressive bag of tricks, gets to the dangerous space and can create legit chances for himself others would not even dare try. He also fronted with Jozy in Holland with good success so there is chemistry there. If you look for a straight-up target man replacement for Jozy, that is Boyd. (That’s not to say Boyd is better than Wondo or LD, this is STRICTLY on a like-for-like comparison) He’s a tank, he left Germany to get regular playing time (a request of JK), he finished in a flurry of goals and his age means he’ll be in the mix for JK’s next World Cup cycle. So, if JK is speaking the truth on ‘replacements’ and where players are competing, and I think he is, that could very possibly mean that Wondo and LD are competing for the last forward spot and Brad Davis doesn’t enter into this at all…

  5. sburns20 - May 19, 2014 at 9:07 PM

    This is all a bunch of nothing, it’s like the usa leaving michael Jordan in his twilight off the Olympic team when he is at the try outs and wants to go. Even a half older Jordan like a half older Donovan makes the team. Stop playing stupid games Jurgen.

  6. vikingerik2002 - May 19, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    This is nonsense. He’ll make the 23, if he doesn’t there’ll be an uproar from his fans. The only question is will he start, which seems unlikely at this point. If we ran out a 4-1-3-2 or something then he could start as a striker or as a left mid, but in the 4-2-3-1 that Klinsi likes, there are only 2 spots for him assuming Altidore and Dempsey start. I’m a huge Landon fan, and I want him to start and play 90 in all 3 games, but Klinsi isn’t, and I expect to see him as a 70th minute substitute for 2 games and maybe a start against Germany or Portgual because they’re mammoth challenges and Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley,and Howard will be the only ones that won’t be completely outclassed in those games.

    • mknow406a - May 20, 2014 at 10:40 PM

      Who cares if there’s “uproar” from his fans? What difference does that make? These selections need to be made with the head, not the heart. Whoever give the USMNT the best chance to win today should go. Period. (And possibly who gives the USMNT a better chance in 2018 if all other things are equal.) Just because the player you personally like doesn’t go, so what? Yeah, I think that Aron Johansson is quality and should be there. But, if his ankle is only at 70%, or it’s at 100% yet he’s playing too timidly, or looking lazy, or not going hard in training, and hence it doesn’t appear to be the best option against the high quality in the US’s group, then cut him and briing in Boyd, Wondo, EJ, Aguelo or whoever. If it gives the team the best chance to win, then so what? And yeah, maybe a better player (based on perspective) stays home because he’s not as good a fit for the system being played. Look at David Luis at Chelsea. He doesn’t fit well within “the special one’s” system. That doesn’t make him a bad or less talented player, it just makes him a bad fit. You don’t like Jones personally, fine. I get it. He infuriates me sometimes too. But, he HAS played with the full up German national team, he has been able to make a career as a full-time starter in the Bundesliga (unlike your boy LD in any of his attempts) and in the Champions League. Saying he’s ‘outclassed’ by the very team he was selected to play for? Come on. Show some respect. Both for him and the talent pool. I, for one, am excited to see how guys like Zusi and Fabian Johnson match up against these top teams. Yeah there are worries in the back and ultimately, they may not get out of the group, but there are quality players in this group beyond your ‘anointed’ four that can certainly make an impression. And it’s much better for soccer in the US if they do!

  7. ndnut - May 19, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    @bobinkc That’s why I stopped commenting and I have started to skip reading as well. This place isn’t the same since Steve and Richard were canned and this became one giant advertisement for EPL on NBC. No Open Cup, no MLS, no USMNT = not worth my team. Becoming reliant on ESPN FC and anything on r/ussoccer r/MLS, and my club’s sub reddit r/SoundersFC

  8. ryanw822 - May 20, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    There isnt one person on that roster that I would take over LD if a match came down to one particular kick of the ball.

    Nothing more than coaching head games played by Jurgen. I dont disagree with it but lets not get crazy and do something dumb when it comes to roster selection.

    • mknow406a - May 20, 2014 at 10:03 PM

      2006 called and it wants it copy of “Bully” for the PS2 back. The team now goes as Micheal Bradley goes. Exhibit A of fans slow to adapt to the new reality of 2014. The USMNT can field 4 midfielders and 2 forwards WITHOUT LD and not have any significant drop in quality. The same cannot be said about Bradley…

  9. daddeeo - May 20, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    LD is a go. This is a troll article to get you reading about the WC.

    Look, he showed deplorable motivation as far back as the 2006 WC in which he himself states [para]“I wasnt’ going to let anyone make me take the leadership roll”. If he wasn’t in Brazil it might be a good long term message for the USMNT (and one which he deserves to hear), but it will hurt viewership.

  10. chadmoon1 - May 20, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Donovan will be in Brazil because of his versatility and experience. Even if he doesn’t start every game, he will be a vital part of the team.

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