Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – Landon Donovan’s career crisis

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I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast late last week with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element each day of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Landon Donovan’s career crisis

At some point over the next few days – heck, perhaps even today for all we know – a quiet dinner somewhere in Southern California, away from prying media eyes, may have tons to say about the United States’ World Cup prospects for 2014.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann – seemingly wearing multiple caps as coach, father figure and career counselor – will sit with U.S. soccer’s reluctant superstar Landon Donovan. They’ll share a meal and try to cover some ground as Donovan marches toward a critical career decision.

Donovan’s career crisis conundrum – whether to push forward, take a short break, take a longer sabbatical or walk away from it all at age 30 after a 13-year professional career – will have bunker buster-type impact on the Los Angeles Galaxy and the U.S. national team.

Hence, Klinsmann’s interest.

Only, the U.S. coach doesn’t seem a bit bothered by the prospect of losing access to the program’s all-time leading scorer.

Said Klinsmann: “I take the easy approach that, that once your season is done, let’s sit down over lunch or dinner and just talk about your life, and what you want to do. … And I give you my two cents!”

He said that last part with a laugh. But who could doubt that Klinsmann is uniquely positioned to parcel out some advice? These two aren’t exactly alike – but they are similar in playing by their own rules in assembling a professional soccer career.

Klinsmann did it by seeking out life opportunities, exploiting chances to explore cultures through soccer in Italy, France and England. (Later in the United States, too.)

Donovan has cobbled together a fine pro career by eschewing the chance to travel, the necessary path for most American players destined to pin down the best version of themselves.

Klinsmann always wanted more out of life than soccer; Donovan seems to be leaning into that kind of mindset. So …

“We’ll see where he’s at,” Klinsmann said. “That’s what we are going to do now when he’s done [with the MLS Cup]. I am very positive that he continues to play. But as I have said previously, it’s his decision. … It’s totally up to him what he wants to do.”

All options are open, Klinsmann said. Presumably, that means Donovan could take a long period of R & R, miss the team’s early February qualifier and still be part of the longer planning.

“I don’t know. It’s really down to that talk we are going to have,” the coach said. “Maybe it takes more talks. I don’t know. But it’s no problem at all.”

Klinsmann is hardly oblivious to Donovan’s ability or potential impact. The Sporting News’ Brian Straus recently did a wonderful job outlining what Donovan faces as the face of U.S. soccer and what he means to the U.S. national team. By extension, of course, he means plenty to the team’s Brazil 2014 ambitions.

It’s just that Klinsmann focusses on a bigger picture, what he sees as an evolving “group that is growing, one with lots of fresh blood.”

“If Landon is not there – obviously we want Landon to be part of it – this team will find solutions. We will adjust. We will make the changes we need to make.”

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He mentioned Donovan’s lack of availability for some of those early Klinsmann-directed camps, which provided room for Brek Shea’s breakthrough. And in Russia last month, there was Josh Gatt (pictured) running the wing to somewhat promising effect; would we have seen Gatt if Donovan had been available?

Still, doesn’t Donovan’s availability affect the way Klinsmann wants the United States to play? For instance, Donovan’s speed and experience up-armors the team’s ability to counter attack. Even there, Klinsmann shrugs.

The guiding concepts aren’t married to any personnel, he said. Klinsmann talks about the “outline,” high pressure when they can, playing out of the back when they can (minus the long-balls as much as possible). Then he tweaks and twists from there.

“But still with the same approach, we want to push it up, we don’t want to just play defensively against Italy, or in Russia.”

Which all may be true. It’s just a lot easier to do with the speedy and heady feet of a guy like Donovan around.

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: explaining Jermaine Jones)

TOMORROW: Getting players to get more from themselves 

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.

How will Man United line-up vs. Ajax in Europa League final?

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How will Jose Mourinho set up Manchester United for their crucial Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Europa League final preview ]

With an automatic UEFA Champions League spot on the line, United must win to get back to Europe’s top club competition next season. If they don’t it is back to the Europa League for Mourinho’s men.

This won’t be easy, though, as United’s defense has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and they’re without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Local lad Marcus Rashford has to come up with the goods.

[ MORE: Manchester clubs react to bombing

Ajax’s young, attack-minded side will be led by Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore, while Davy Klaassen will pull the strings in midfield.

Back to United, and with Mourinho confirming Sergio Romero would start in goal ahead of David De Gea, just like he has done for most of the Europa League campaign, we know one starter. In defense it is likely to be Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the center with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo out injured and the duo of Ashley Young and Luke Shaw also missing. Valencia and Blind should get the nod out wide with Darmian in reserve.

Midfield is where things get tricky. Michael Carrick‘s experience may be invaluable but Mourinho is likely to go with Fellaini’s grit (if he’s fit) in the engine room alongside Ander Herrera.

Ahead of them in the three attacking positions, Mkhitaryan and Pogba seem certainties to start and then it’s a straight battle between Lingard, Mata and Martial for the other spot. Lingard may just win that battle due to his superior defensive abilities, but it will be close.

Up top it will be Rashford to start with Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings in what could be his final game for United.

Take a look at our suggested lineup below. Do you agree?


Manchester United starting lineup vs. Ajax, Europa League final

—– Romero —–

— Valencia — Jones — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

— Mkhitaryan — Pogba — Lingard —

—– Rashford —–