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Landon Donovan: “Tactically, the team was not set up to succeed”

Jul 2, 2014, 10:21 PM EDT

Following the United States’ 2-1 loss to Belgium on Tuesday, Landon Donovan has spoken out against Jurgen Klinsmann’s tactics claiming the team was not “set up to succeed.”

Controversially left off the U.S. roster, Donovan explained he was disappointed in the setup of Klinsmann, who moved away from the passing, attacking soccer that the team had been developing leading up to the 2014 World Cup.

“It’s certainly a missed opportunity,” he said following a training session with the LA Galaxy on Wednesday. “The thought of having a game Saturday – the day after the Fourth of July, against [Lionel] Messi and Argentina, with what was already a swelling audience – would have been incredible.

“I think we’re all disappointed in what happened yesterday. I think the most disappointing is we didn’t seem like we gave it a real effort, from a tactical standpoint. I thought the guys did everything they could, they did everything that was asked of them, but I don’t think we were set up to succeed yesterday, and that was tough to watch.”

[MORE: Watch Donovan react to Wondo’s miss]

[MORE: Watch Donovan discuss US loss with Dan Patrick]

He continued: “It’s a results-oriented business, and so, results-wise, you can hold your head high,” he said. “If you really look at the performances, there were some good performances by guys, some not-so-good performances by guys. As a whole, I think tactically, the team was not set up to succeed.

“They were set up in a way that was opposite from what they’ve been the past couple years, which is opening up, passing, attacking – trying to do that. And the team’s been successful that way. Why they decided to switch that in the World Cup, none of us will know. From a playing standpoint, I think the guys will probably be disappointed in the way things went.”

Donovan was quick to acknowledge, however, that “everybody’s an expert when they’re watching at home.”

“Hindsight is 20/20, so in hindsight you would say we should’ve been more attacking,” he said. “Maybe if we had been more attacking, we would have gotten four counterattack goals scored against us. So you never know. … But my feeling as a player, if I’m in that locker room before that game – before the Germany game, before the Belgium game – and the coach walked in and said we’re playing a 4-5-1 and Clint [Dempsey] is up top by himself, I would have been disappointed. Because I would have said let’s go for it. I want a chance to go for it and try to win the game.”

Donovan went on to note that Tim Howard‘s performance was reminiscent of Kasey Keller’s in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals win over Brazil, Kyle Beckerman was missed in midfield, Michael Bradley was played in an “unnatural position” and that he hoped Chris Wondolowski‘s miss would not define him.

  1. mazblast - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:11 PM

    Almost every time Landycakes opens his mouth, he makes himself more selfish and unlikable. He’s been butt-hurt ever since Klinsmann wouldn’t kiss his tail and keep him as the “star” of the team.

    Donovan is a falling star and evidently not taking it very well. It’s a pity that ESPN saw fit to give him a soapbox from which to decry the USMNT, in spite of the fact that they overachieved by getting out of the “Group of Death”. I think that if the team had somehow played way over its head and won it all, Landon would be there saying, “They could have done it easier if I’d been playing”.

    • mikedennery - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:19 PM

      You have to be joking.. He could not be more modest and unselfish. He didn’t even put himself as a starter when asked! Obviously, he would have liked to have played, but he hasn’t said anything any other analyst hasn’t said about team USA. Why do you see the need to hate on him when he has a valid point? Do you want him to pretend that he agrees with everything JK is doing? Will that make you happy?

      People keep trying to make him out to be this bitter angry falling star.. He isn’t Terrell Owens and he has never been like that. If the US went all the way, I’m sure he’d be cheering them on just like everyone else. Stop trying to make him out to be someone he isn’t.

      He is a quiet modest dood, who is clearly disappointed that he didn’t get to play in Brazil, but who wouldn’t be? He has been acting class this whole time when I think he should just being telling all of the haters out there like you to suck it.

      Go pray to your statue of Brad Davis.

  2. martysbetter - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:43 PM

    I’ve always admired his game but every time Donovan opens his mouth, I cringe. Just his cadence in general always gave me the impression that he is a bit of a brat.

    Kind of disappointing and unbecoming of him to be so critical of the team after this great run – not to say he isn’t entitled to his opinion, but he is coming off as very salty.

    • footballer4ever - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:05 AM

      Well, let him continue to talk his talk. There might be a point why Klinsmann decided to drop him. If you have an entitled brat in your workforce/team, then that brat breaks any harmony which should be on a team to have a chance to win or overcome obstacles. Aside his football skills, his mouth/attitude must be the one who caused him to be left out.

    • mikedennery - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:21 PM

      Great run? We were a punching bag for Belgium. He is saying what I’ve been saying for years, if you are going to get knocked out of the WC, at least show some balls and go for it!

      • ian.campbell - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:26 PM

        If Wondolowski could finish, we would be preparing to face Argentina right now.

  3. greenhagen - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:50 AM

    What’s with the haters? How is this different from what a dozen other analysts have been saying for the last day and a half?

    I guess you prefer athletes that say the same out meaningless dribble: “Everyone gave 110% out there. Coach was great, players were great. We were just a bit unlucky.”

    Sheesh. JK showed some good tactics during the World Cup, especially with substitutions. But the game plan for Germany and especially Belgium gave the US very little chance to win because it gave them very few offensive opportunities.

  4. braxtonrob - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:06 AM

    The roster was loaded with superb players, and the subs (for the heavy majority) performed VERY well.

    And yet, the performance of most of these games looked like a US team that was out-of-it’s-depth.
    All of you that think that we can’t, at least, play a competitive match with the ‘big boys’ should get off the train now. No way is this country not capable of playing competitively and scaring the hell out of the big footballing nations. None of the teams looked scared to me, save Portugal, who frankly, came INTO the game scared.
    You have to risk losing to win, but this went BEYOND that. This was Bora-ball. Wynalda was right!
    You have to go back TWENTY years to find another US team that was forced to play this way.
    It … was … ugly.
    And painful (often times) to watch.

    The best thing I can say about JK is ‘he’s trying’. But you can’t play the USMNT conservatively. That’s not who we are. But more to the point – WE’RE BETTER THAN THAT!

    Also, next time you have a chance to put an American hero on the BENCH, do it!

    • simonkulberg - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:41 AM

      I`d go for relatively superb. Player for player the Belgian team is much stronger, and would have mangled the US on breaks if Klinsmann had gone for possession play. Much better to flip it and sit back under compression, before hitting on the break yourself.
      You can do that pretty well with a weaker team, especially with pace up front. Look at Switzerland vs France for an example of how the USA vs Belgium match might easily have ended up if Klinsmann hadn`t been careful. The Swiss had excellent results coming in and hadn`t lost in like 20 games. So against France they wanted to attack and get a lead early, and instead got massacred by the French counters until it was 5-0.
      Hubris is a poor tactic for a World Cup match.

    • Indybear - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:07 AM

      And yet another instance where the word “hero” is misused. It’s a game. Don’t like it? Don’t watch it.

      • braxtonrob - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:03 PM

        @Indy, Look up the word the word at The definition is not as narrow as you demand.

  5. rphillish - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:08 AM

    I get that Klinsmann did a good job getting out of a very tough group, but lets not forget what he promised. When he was hired he said he was going to develop a more progressive attacking tactical mind set. Is that what we saw in this cup? No, clearly not. Now I understand that we where set back by the loss of Altidore, but why was there no backup? Why was plan B, park-the-bus. Why was this team not able to hold the ball?

    Good results do no absolve you from criticism. Especially when a 1-2-1 record is not, strictly speaking, a good result. “Oh, but think of the competition, the teams we played” I hear them shout. Well guess what, it’s the world cup. If you think there are easy teams to beat here, go tell it to Italy, England and Uruguay.

    • boz - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:34 AM

      Exactly. All the bogus “Group of Death” stuff was just to make it seem like an earth-shattering achievement, when in reality the U.S. tallied fewer points than in 2010 and generated just as fewer (if not less) offense than in the last World Cup.

      Turns out this group was actually one of the more weaker ones. Portugal were undermanned, Ghana were imploding, while Germany went about it’s business easily brushing aside the U.S. — a team which it had lost to, 4-3, at RFK Stadium last year.

      • arrington1279 - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        I’ll concede that JK conservatively switched to a counter-attacking style, and we can definitely quibble over whether or not that was the right approach against these sides (considering the strength in attack in all of them, I would argue that it was the smart approach)

        But you have to be insane or incredibly duplicitous to compare Germany’s current World Cup roster with the squad the team faced at RFK.

  6. eddie0710 - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:31 AM

    I was pretty disappointed with both the Germany and Belgium game. I felt that if they would’ve attacked more, the results would’ve been to our favor, but Dan Patrick made a real good point when he interviewed Donovan. The USMNT just didn’t have the attacking talent to really go at Germany and Belgium to create chances and try to score some goals. Both Germany and Belgium have some fascinating wingers.. Gotze.. Ozil.. Hazard.. De Bruyne.. They all gave the US a hard time. Unfortunately, this roster didn’t have any true fearless wingers that could try to create a chance.. The only player that did was Yedlin. Green was given his chance to but at that point it was already to late.

  7. andreweac - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:55 AM

    I believe Klinsmann is the right person for the job. That said, Landon’s criticism is not off mark. These two points do not disagree with each other.

    • paperlions - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:39 AM


      Not only is Donovan’s criticism not off the mark…it mirrors exactly what Klinsman said after both the Germany and Belgium matches. In each case, Klinsman himself said that the team was giving too much respect to the other side and that the players had to continue to develop the midset of taking the game to top teams. Klinsman’s tactics and lineups aren’t the only reason for the lack of attack, the skill of the players as well as their mindsets contributed strongly….the midfield was horrible in each game, giving away possession and not playing through from defense to the attacking 1/3 well at all. The only player that regularly attacked with confidence was Yedlin, because others lack the skill, the midset, or both to do it.

      • tomcatfl - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:49 AM

        And yet Donovan blames JK. I wasn’t in the locker room or on the sidelines, so I don’t know if JK actually told his players to park the bus, or if he was truly frustrated on the sidelines vs Germany and Belgium, yelling at the players to push forward and not be so tentative. But neither was LD, so I’ll believe JK on this one.

        And the Belgium game lineup was announced as 4-3-3, not 4-5-1. And of course formation doesn’t dictate unless you let it. And our 4-5-1 against Portugal spent much of the game doing a decent job keeping the ball forward and attacking.

        I would have loved it had we had the strikers to keep two real ones on the field in all the matches. But going in, I didn’t trust Wondo (too limited) or Johanssen or Green (too inexperienced) to pair up with Dempsey up front. I wouldn’t have trusted Donovan up there (as opposed to being on the wing), either. Nor EJ nor Boyd, for that matter.

        We just don’t have enough WC-quality forwards in the US pool, period. For the second cup in a row. Altidore can be good within a certain role, but he shouldn’t be the linchpin of any offense at this level. We have big strong ones, or we have gutty hard-working ones, or we have speedy ones, but we don’t have strikers with the truly gifted ball skills needed. I’m hoping the shift in emphasis on ball skills that people are talking about in youth soccer will someday fix this problem. But for now, we just don’t have them. Maybe Green and Johanssen and Agudelo etc. will develop enough by 2018 that we’ll finally have a striker corps to contend for more than scrappy, hardworking overachievers.

      • paperlions - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:34 AM


        I have no idea why people are trying to blame JK rather than just admitting that the talent isn’t there…which people do admit at other times. If the talent isn’t there, then there is no other reason necessary to explain the performance….and NO ONE thinks the US has the talent at this point.

        It is amazing that the team can exceed expectations and people are still trying to blame the coach of a team that exceeded expectations…..and they did it with tactics, organization, and fitness (all associated with coaching) despite the talent deficit.

  8. coachbeck - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:24 AM

    It’s USA soccer. Face it we just aren’t that good. How many Americans do we have in the top leagues?

  9. ravenswhat - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:07 AM

    We needed a guy like Donavan there at the end of the Belgium match. He equalizes is spits Dempsey does not.

  10. 950003cups - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    LDon is the man. He’s 100% right. The team overachieved on the back of Howard. Game after game he’s bailed them out. Bradley needed to step up and didn’t. LDon needed to step up 4 years ago and did.

    4 years ago USA charged in to the top 16. This year they backed in.


  11. jlewsey15 - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    This is the same way every other team plays when they come up against better and more technical teams.

    USA are solid at the back so why not lean on it and try to catch the opposition on the break?
    It is just common sense to play that way when you are up against a more formidable foe.

    To say the Belgium game plan was too defensive is mental, they had 37 shots at goal and 17 on target, if the USA had played more attacking football look for those number sot be 50+ and 25+ and watch you lose 4,5,6-0.

    JK played the correct tactics against the correct teams, you don’t have the individual talent to go and beat German, Belgium et al so you lean on your teamwork and hope to nick a goal somewhere.

  12. nyg201 - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:04 AM

    How you leave Landon off the roster is just crazy to me. Especially with all his WC experience. Starting or not starting and just coming in as sub maybe could have probably gave the US better chances.

    Klinsmann’s must go. It’s time for a fresh start with a new coach. I’m sick of just being ok with just making it out of groups. We need someone that will push us through the round of 16 and into the 8’s and 4’s. Belgium could have easily been had and if you watched that game it was obvious.

    • tomcatfl - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:51 AM

      We need McBride and Arena back!


  13. nyg201 - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:05 AM

    How you leave Landon off the roster is just crazy to me! Especially with all his WC experience. Starting or not starting and just coming in as sub maybe could have probably gave the US better chances. Klinsmann’s must go. It’s time for a fresh start with a new coach. I’m sick of just being ok with just making it out of groups. We need someone that will push us through the round of 16 and into the 8’s and 4’s. Belgium could have easily been had and if you watched that game it was obvious.

  14. garbear25 - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    Landy is just flat out wrong.

    Belgium’s forwards were flat out running over the US defenders in one on one situations. When the US got 8 or 9 back Belgium had tons of posession but the shots were not exactly testers (most on them Howard didn’t have to move his feet for).

    Belgiums real pressure came in transition, and there would have been a hell of a lot more of that if JK had pushed the midfield forward.

    Sour grapes, period.

  15. ian.campbell - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:27 PM

    Just needed Wondolowski to put the ball in the back of the net and we would be in the quarterfinals.

    • mrstev - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:49 PM

      ian.campbell…you only keep demonstrating what an uneducated soccer fan you are.

      Really…Wondolowski is the only person that had a chance to win that game or put it into overtime? I was at the game and have since watched it three more times.
      First – the Wondo chance was not that clear cut. The keeper was bearing down on him and had a good shot to save anything that was put on frame
      Second – Dempsey was clean through on goal (assisted by Wondo) on that trick play with only the keeper to beat and he shoots it straight at the keeper.
      Third – in the 108th minute Wondo perfectly cushions a header down to Jones, with a clear shot on goal from 7 or 8 yards and he can only karate kick it wide of the far post.
      Both of those chances were just as clear as the Wondo chance and for some reason the uneducated douchebags only see the Wondo chance and act as if it we easier to make than to miss. The only difference is the timing of the chances. I challenge you to watch it again.

      If you want a scapegoat look to Klinsmann for stranding Dempsey up front in a shitty formation only designed to clog up the midfield and play defensively.

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