While most of the futbol world was fixated on the Borussia Dortmund/Real Madrid Champions League semifinal Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Soccer Federation decided to hold a press conference with National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
I started seeing these tweets from U.S.-based writers filter in amid the shouts of, “LEWANDOWSKI!!!”
It looked like mostly standard, boring, Klinsmann-speak: scheduling games in the Pacific Northwest, the Gold Cup roster … zzzz.
Then came something that’s not quite a bombshell, but noteworthy nonetheless: Landon Donovan’s spot on the U.S. team isn’t exactly waiting for him when and if Klinsmann recalls him to international duty.
“There are players clearly ahead of Landon Donovan right now…there are still lots of questions.” -Jurgen Klinsmann #usmnt
— Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN) April 24, 2013
Realistically, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
It would’ve be a bigger headline had Klinsmann announced Donovan’s place in the starting XI was his to reclaim after his self-imposed, burnout-driven sabbatical from soccer.
Sure, you took a holiday in Cambodia while we were all trying to qualify for a World Cup. All is forgotten. Welcome back big guy! Which jersey number do you want? 21? 10? 11? Take your pick!
There’s no sentimentality in international soccer, regardless of who you are.
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And in Donovan’s case, you might be the United States’ all-time leading scorer, but you also checked out on the team ahead of three important World Cup qualifiers. On top of that, you basically got away with it without too much hassle from either the media or fans since this is America.
Donovan is slowly working himself back to full fitness with the Los Angeles Galaxy after blowing off the first month of the MLS season. The U.S. doesn’t play again until a pair of high-profile friendlies against Belgium and Germany in late May and early June. After that its a string of three qualifiers in 11 days, which starts with a trip to Jamaica followed by home games with Panama and Honduras.
There’s plenty of time before this becomes an actual decision or a selection dilemma for Klinsmann.
If Donovan’s play in MLS is up to what we’ve seen from him, he should get called in for those friendlies. From there it’s up to Donovan to prove if he’s worthy of a starting spot for the qualifiers. However if Donovan’s scoring in MLS and Klinsmann doesn’t bring him back, then there’s clearly more going on beneath the surface than we’re privy to, but that would be a story for another day.
The U.S. is still a better team trying to qualify for the 2014 World Cup with Donovan as an option, but that’s a fully-committed Donovan, not the Donovan who spent most of the last 12 months in an existential funk like Lars Ulrich in “Some Kind of Monster.” In the four games the U.S. has played in 2013, it has scored two goals — both from Clint Dempsey. Even at 31 and coming off a layoff, Donovan is still one of the better offensive threats the U.S. has at its disposal in the short term.
Competition for spots — as opposed to complacency — can only be considered a good thing for Klinsmann and the U.S. heading toward Brazil next year.
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