Landon Donovan and Jurgen Klinsmann: nothing personal, but challenging circumstances

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Landon Donovan just might be in for a weird year ahead.

Some of that is about injuries and advancing age. Bummer, I know.  It hits everyone – the U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer, and one of the most decorated MLS men in league history doesn’t get a pass.

For Donovan, the growing tax of sprains and strains might be difficult to deal with because he’s been such a remarkably durable figure. He’s missed time in MLS before, but almost always for U.S. national team duty. Lengthy, injury-related setbacks have been few and far between so far. But he’s 30 years old now, so dealing with docs and rehab specialist may be a bigger part of the landscape ahead.

There’s something else at work, too, less related to the inexorable sands of time.

Could we be near a time when Donovan sees his role reduced or even marginalized with the national team?

ESPN Soccernet’s Leander Schaerlaeckens posted a lengthy Q&A last week with national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann. At the caboose end were interesting comments regarding a speculative “rift” between Klinsmann and Donovan. I doubt anything acrimonious was ever at work. So I might quibble with the syntax a bit, but sniffing around this issue is good journalism. Here’s Klinsmann’s response:

No. There’s no problem at all with Landon. It’s for us way unfortunate that he wasn’t available for the last eight games, whatever reason it was. We take it as it happened and are straightforward in our relationship, and obviously we want to see him back in the team. This time it was bronchitis. The other times was other injuries that hit him. There’s absolutely no problem with Landon.

But we need Landon with the team to move forward because the train has left at 200 miles an hour and he was not on the train for eight games, which was not ideal for us but it is what it is. [Friendlies in] May and [World Cup qualifiers in] June comes quickly, and that’s when Landon needs to be there and understand where is the team. We need him here as soon and as quickly as possible.

I thought about it then, but the Olympic train was pulling out of the station (bound for that fatal curve as it came around the Nashville bend, as we know) and our patriotic gaze went elsewhere. Now I’m circling back.

Donovan has played in two of Klinsmann’s 10 matches in charge. More important, the Galaxy attacker has missed most of the training sessions and road trips. Donovan appeared in Klinsmann’s debut, which was more or less just a howdy and handshake session for all.

Later, Donovan went through about three practices and then played in the Sept. 2 loss to Costa Rica. The team went on to meet Belgium, but Donovan remained behind as part of an arrangement made before Klinsmann came on board. So that’s it. Donovan has neither played for nor trained under Klinsmann since, unavailable due to injury, illness or club needs.

I have no problem believing Klinsmann and Donovan are cool, personally. I have no doubt that Klinsmann isn’t personally put out by Donovan’s absences. The U.S. manager is bigger than that.

But …

Read those comments again. I think Klinsmann is being typically candid about things.

In his mind, something much bigger is at work, something transformative. The concepts and systems he’s preaching aren’t just schlocky motivational truisms up on the corporate pegboard. He believes in them. Plus, it’s tough getting others to buy in when someone rarely around can still be such an essential cog.

Again, that’s not Donovan’s fault. It really has been a series of bad luck or circumstance.

I assume, along with everyone else, that Donovan will be in camp in a few weeks when Klinsmann gathers his side ahead of the May-June friendlies and World Cup qualifiers.

Donovan is a smart soccer player; he’ll catch up quickly on whatever he’s missed. Clearly, Donovan starts from a point well ahead of pretty much everyone in the U.S. pool – this side of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, at any rate. Klinsmann knows so.

But …

If something happens along the way, forcing Klinsmann and Co. to motor on, “200 miles an hour” through May or June without Donovan? Given what we know about Klinsmann and his quirky ways, would anyone be floored if the coach leaves Donovan off rosters moving forward?

Klinsmann has a noted history of committing to his system and beliefs, then implementing through choices not always in line with populist or conventional thinking. Klinsmann smiles affably and confidently right through any resulting controversy or criticism.

Donovan has meant so very much to U.S. Soccer for 10 years now, from massive goals at World Cup 2002 to his critical role in qualifying for World Cup 2010. (If you don’t understand how important Donovan was to a qualifying road that got squeezed pretty good here and there, you weren’t paying attention.)

But sooner or later, Donovan’s influence will naturally fade. I don’t expect the sun to begin setting in the summer of 2012.

Then again, one good tenet of journalism says never to let your audience be completely caught off guard by something. So keep an eye on this one.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.