On top of the Hex, and looking a sure bet for a place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it may seem like this isn’t time for the United States men’s national team to make changes to their soccer team. Things are finally starting to click after two rocky years under Jurgen Klinsmann – leaders have emerged, a captain has been named, and a goal-scorer has been rediscovered.
So why is it time to change things? The USA need all the talent they can get.
Things are going well right now in World Cup qualifying, and although it’s debatable how impressive a sweep of Jamaica, Panama and Honduras is, the impressiveness of this team’s resiliency is not up for debate. When acrimony or injustice or failure strike, the US are at their best.
After a Brian Straus article filled with anonymous quotes from inside the US camp slammed Klinsmann, the US tuned the mayhem out and qualified for the Hex. After they lost their first game of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying in Honduras, the US picked themselves up and haven’t lost in World Cup qualifying since. After they were thrashed by Belgium at the beginning of an incredibly important stretch of games, Klinsmann’s side shrugged off the critics, beat a Germany B team, and won three qualifiers in a row.
The USA have righted the ship many times under Klinsmann, but it’s certainly a ship with holes in it, and when righting the ship, the US have gotten a fair bit of luck. If Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund don’t make the Champions League Final and Germany brings their A team to play the US, do the Americans win and gain crucial confidence?
If Brad Evans doesn’t score an improbable stoppage time goal in Kingston, how embarrassing does a draw with lowly Jamaica look? If Jozy Altidore doesn’t remember how to score for his country again, where is this team? What if the US’s opponents in the Hexagonal weren’t falling apart?
What if Mexico was still a force to be reckoned with, or Honduras didn’t pull a disappearing act? The US should automatically qualify from the region by default with all the struggles their opponents have had. Absolutely, credit to the Yanks for staying steady, but the US have had a lot of luck. A nice winning streak and a place at the top of the Hex shouldn’t mask the problems with Klinsmann’s team.
I worry about the attacking creativity and overall talent of this US team. I worry about the lack of World Cup experience on the roster, and the lack of a clutch player. Who is the face of this team anyway?
Silent assassin Clint Dempsey? The Texan got the armband because Klinsmann wanted to give him more responsibility and make him more vocal, but Dempsey just isn’t cut out for the role. Is the leader Michael Bradley, or Tim Howard? They were both more deserving candidates for the captaincy than Dempsey, and both were passed over.
The real leader of the national side, the face of US Soccer, the clutch player, the World Cup experience, is sitting at home in Los Angeles, waiting by the telephone. Landon Donovan wants back into the national team. Klinsmann would be stupid not to utilize his best weapon in the remaining World Cup qualifying games and, presumably, World Cup 2014.
The US aren’t crushing teams. They need Donovan’s quality. The LA Galaxy star has been named to the USA’s Gold Cup team this summer, a competition which will be played by a B squad. Still, Donovan has expressed his eagerness to play again for his country in any competition, with any group of players.
Donovan, of course, lost his place in the national team when he took a five-month long break from soccer over the winter, a decision which Klinsmann wasn’t exactly thrilled with.
But why should Donovan be punished for taking a sabbatical from soccer? He was so worn out last season that he hardly celebrated the LA Galaxy’s MLS Cup triumph. To put it simply, Landon was exhausted. He needed to recharge the batteries, and that’s exactly what he did. He’s a better and more committed player for it today. Despite taking a lot of negative press and badgering from his club and country, Donovan knew what was best for him, and he handled his time off and return with professionalism.
If Jurgen wanted to sit Landon for one cycle with the national team to reward the players who were in the team in the spring while Donovan was in Cambodia, fine, and it he wants to put him through his paces in the Gold Cup this summer, fine. But Klinsmann can’t afford to leave one of his best players at home when the US goes to Brazil. He can’t. This isn’t Spain we’re talking about. The US needs its best players. All of them.
And there’s no question, Donovan is still one of the USA’s finest footballers. Donovan still has his jitterbug pace and an impeccable eye for the right play on the field – he leads his national team in both goals and assists. Donovan is an astoundingly unselfish player, and the US could use his vision and direct style to contrast the hard-working central midfield of Jones, Bradley and Dempsey.
But never mind all of that. Donovan has the big game chops unmatched by any US player. Donovan defines this US team’s resiliency. There’s a ready-made place for him in the team on the wing opposite Graham Zusi, and he’s simply a World Cup legend. No US player has ever scored more times than him on the world’s biggest stage.
If Donovan’s back in the team, the US have a much-needed dead ball specialist and stone-cold penalty-taker. They also add experience and a huge amount of leadership from a player who has been there and done that. I don’t believe Donovan doesn’t get along with Klinsmann,. After all, it was the German manager who brought Donovan to Bayern Munich on loan during Klinsmann’s ill-fated spell at the Allianz Arena.
Klinsmann’s biggest mistake would be deciding he doesn’t need Donovan. If the US want to progress from the group stage in Brazil, they must put their best team on the field. And Landon Donovan is in that team every day of the week and twice on Sunday.