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Despite Excellent Gold Cup, Landon Donovan Has Not Earned Automatic Selection

All of the headlines and analysis over the course of the last three weeks has been about how Landon Donovan has forced his way back into the United States starting XI with his performances against lesser competition and the Costa Rican “B” side (or in Honduras’ case almost a “C” side) in the Gold Cup.

The narrative that has been written states Donovan is still one of the most influential players for the US Men’s National Team and must start in remaining World Cup qualifiers and next summer in Brazil. While that narrative has been crafted without the type of critical analysis needed to come to such a conclusion given the poor level of competition, let me offer a countering view. Though I preface this by stating the established narrative may very well play out.

On Sunday, Donovan again struggled in a big game, and since 2006 more often than not the former USMNT talisman has gone missing on the big occasions. In the current US men’s national team, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Jermaine Jones all have a more positive and consistent influence on proceedings for the national team.

No question exists that Donovan’s Gold Cup was largely positive until Sunday but simply shoving Graham Zusi out of the way is not justified based on performances on home soil against the likes of Guatemala, Belize, Cuba and El Salvador.

In this qualifying cycle, the Sporting Kansas City winger has shown great quality and resolve in matches against the top CONCACAF sides sporting their top selection of players. He has proven with his daring runs and excellent crosses that he belongs in the 4-2-3-1 formation Jürgen Klinsmann has been favoring.

That would leave the other wing where Eddie Johnson, perhaps the most influential attacking player for the USMNT in the last three Gold Cup games plays.  Both Zusi and Johnson played an important role in the perfect qualifying haul for the United States in June. The United States won all four June matches including a spectacular 4-3 victory in Washington against Germany to celebrate the US Soccer Federation Centennial.  Both players showed the quality, commitment and consistency demonstrated in recent qualifiers.

If Donovan isn’t going to start on either flank, he certainly isn’t going to replace Clint Dempsey in the center of the pitch right behind Jozy Altidore either. Klinsmann can use the August friendly in Bosnia to tinker with things but when qualifying resumes in September he’d be best served to simply pick up where the “A” team left off, with the same midfield. Donovan can certainly serve as an impact substitution but should not start the September qualifiers.

What happens after September when the USA presumably will clinch qualification is another matter entirely. But at this point all Donovan has earned is a chance with the “A” team again, not an assured position as a starter. To give him a starting spot at this moment would displace either a deserving Zusi or Johnson.

Landon Donovan showed character, spirit and spunk in his return to the USMNT this summer. Still, his position is not set in stone. He needs to prove his ability to influence matches against top level competition before being brought right back into the side.

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  1. Trey

    July 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Here we go again. Everyone getting carried away because the US beat some B teams or useless CONCACAF sides.

    Donovan is a player that FAILED when he went abroad. He isn’t even as good as Kartik claims here. So he scored goals against Belize and Cuba? He is not even close to the level of Dempsey or Bradley.

    As far as big games I give you the Algeria goal but he was ordinary in that game and was horrible in the previous two games. Against, Ghana he was invisible as he was for most of the Panama game not even getting touches and making the right runs.

    I disagree alot with Kartik but if you objectively watch the US and not play fan-boy like so many US and MLS fans you would realize this is one time he is on the mark. Indeed, I think he is being too chartiable to Donovan.

    The idea of him playing ahead of Dempsey or Fabian Johnson is laughable and smacks of the US again promoting poster children for marketing purposes. But then again they continue to start Howard who may not even be the #1 for Everton this year over Guzan and took forever to finally put Bocanegra out to pasture.

    • David

      July 31, 2013 at 11:46 am

      He was horrible in the match before Algeria where you scored a goal and assisted on another to tie Slovenia (baring a dubious whistle in the box, US would have won off a corner in which he delivered).

      Donovan failed in Germany, but is praised in England after two stints. None of what you’re saying holds any water as a valid argument. Use facts, not blanket statements.

  2. David

    July 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Trying to write about something that isn’t an issue to fill up space on the site?

    This is making something of nothing. The fact that you hint that he doesn’t do well in big games is reason enough to discredit this, not to mention the rest of the article.

    “On Sunday, Donovan again struggled in a big game, and since 2006 more often than not the former USMNT talisman has gone missing on the big occasions”

    Mexico 02 WC, Mexico every qualifier, Algeria 10 WC. Just. Stop. So as long as you don’t consider two goals that put us through to the knockout rounds of 2 of the last 3 World Cups “big occasions”, then maybe you have a point.

    • Painful

      July 30, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Spot on. I finally had to use Pipes to create a Kartik-free feed for the site. Looking forward to less nonsense.

  3. Bucky

    July 30, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    You have every right to write this and still be completely wrong. The best players need to go to the World Cup and he is one of ours. If you do not think he should start, ok, but not be in the squad? Bitter much?

  4. Dean Stell

    July 30, 2013 at 6:19 am

    I’m not sure I agree with Kartik, but isn’t it nice to have a legitimate conversation about who should start? It seems like most of the USMNT discussions center around fringe guys like Wondo and whether they “deserve a shot”…and that conversation goes on for a few minutes before someone rightly points out that we’re arguing about a possible 23rd man on the roster for Brazil.

    This argument has more of the flavor of England having to worry about playing Scholes, Lampard and Gerrard. Not saying Zusi and Donovan are the same caliber, but its at least the same sort of discussion. Just nice to the USMNT at a place where we have depth that is worth arguing about.

  5. Efrain

    July 29, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Agree with writer. Donovan has never impressed me. I hear and read all the hype, but I just don’t see it. Least not when it matters. The “A” side has done just fine without him so far in WCQ. The only thing he has earned is a spot on the bench as a sub and definitely not starter.

  6. Bergkamp_10

    July 29, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    “Donovan again struggled in a big game, and since 2006 more often than not the former USMNT talisman has gone missing on the big occasions”

    Talk about over and outright generalization.

    “If Donovan isn’t going to start on either flank, he certainly isn’t going to replace Clint Dempsey in the center”

    Klinsmann should put Landon right in the center of the pitch where he can make the most impact. This guy is a world class player and sorry to say but Dempsey is a good player but Landon just has that extra bit of class and impetus that is needed right in the middle of the pitch.

    I seriously don’t understand what a player like him is doing in the flanks, anyway. A player like that with that kind of vision and technique should play right in the middle in a no. 10 role. Stop putting players like that in the wings which is just a complete waste.

  7. John Smith

    July 29, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    “Eddie Johnson, perhaps the most influential attacking player for the USMNT in the last three Gold Cup games plays.” Stopped reading because my eyes popped out my head after reading this line.

    Interesting take…but no.

  8. Smokey Bacon

    July 29, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    FFS. Unbelievable.

  9. Joe

    July 29, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Donovan is our most dangerous player IMO. He has the ability to take our team to the next level. He creates chances for himself and others. He had a good game last night and was all over the place. He should have won us a penalty, he got fouled when he got behind the center back and got the foul called on him. He should have finished Brek’s goal but that doesnt matter. He was by far the best player of the tournament and really looked like the only player that was on a different level than anyone else that was there. Zusi should not expect to be in these qualifiers come September. Jurgen would be making a mistake if he sits Landon. Landon offers that extra something that will take this team past the 2nd round in the WC.

    • jtm371

      July 29, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      only if he is not to tired or burned out.what a joke.i hope he is off the squad for the turn down the chance to play at the highest level on a regular basis says it all.stick to the mls that is where you will flourish and build your legacy.

      • Joe

        July 29, 2013 at 10:37 pm

        So Zusi, Omar and Besler should go too then? Landon’s level of play is top notch and is our most dangerous player.

  10. Tony

    July 29, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Good article. I think Zusi has earned the right not to lose his job because of performances by “B” team players.

    BTW, Fabian Johnson played on the left in Honduras but was hurt often after. But he too needs to play ahead of Donovan.

    Last World Cup besides the goal against Algeria, Donovan was abject. Really poor in the Confederations Cup in 2009 also. Your point about big games is VERY well taken. Yesterday is another one.

    One correction. The only “B” teams in the tournament were Mexico and the USA. Honduras was an “A” team not a “C” team as you claim. Same for Costa Rica. They had the full team.

  11. Rob

    July 29, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I truly hope this was written just to be a contrarian and not your actual view. Not only do you contradict yourself, you show a lack of knowledge about past games. Fabian Johnson was on the wings and Landon Donovan has scored many goals for us in big games. Honestly, even as a contrarian view this is poorly thought out.

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