When we talk about Landon Donovan’s return, LA Galaxy fans want to know how it shapes the club and its pursuit of an unprecedented third consecutive MLS Cup crown.
Meanwhile, the majority of domestic soccer supporters are more interested in how the one of the country’s best set of soccer feet (ever, that is) can fizz up a national team attack that looks mighty flat at the moment.
Will the national team deciders welcome Donovan? The simple answer here is: Why not?
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann has generally shown a balance between idealism and pragmatism. He certainly has bold ideas about how the United States should play, higher up the field, more controlled out of the back, looking to apply pressure offensively and without the ball.
The reality has been harder to come by, which is why the actual game-day execution under Klinsmann has frequently looked similar to the less-dynamic ways of predecessor Bob Bradley. Personally, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, but critics abound. They are impatient and eager to see the new ways and implementations at work. Now!
The balance may have gone slightly askew in Honduras, where some of the manager’s personnel choice seemed slightly ambitious; perhaps just a little more experience within the team’s “back five” – four defenders plus defensive midfielder Danny Williams – would have rescued the point. That just goes to prove that this is a moving target.
Idealism is wonderful, and it may serve the United States well at Brazil 2014 – but it won’t amount to a hill of practice cones if Klinsmann and Co. lose their way en route and fail (egad!) to qualify.
Which brings us back to Donovan.
Assuming the 30-year-old attacker has resupplied his depleted stores of “want to,” he will provide a boost to the attack, not to mention some missing diversity and ideas. Donovan’s critics are legion, but any reasonable person will conclude that his talents could be put to use at the moment.
Klinsmann cannot like that Donovan has come up missing so often from camps and matches. He has said as much.
FoxSports.com’s Leander Schaerlaeckens asked a good question in this piece:
Will Donovan commit firmly to remaining available to the team at least through the 2014 World Cup? If he won’t, there’s little sense in once again building around a player who openly admits that he’s had “motivational issues” throughout his career. Donovan’s return might be brief. If it turns out the prolonged off-season didn’t bring him the inner peace he has often spoken about seeking, there’s no telling when he’ll walk away again.
That article doesn’t address what may even be a more important point: will the players accept Donovan? In the less likely even that Donovan’s presence becomes a polarizing element, his return could do more damage than good. That’s a whole other jar of pickles.
As for Klinsmann, his pragmatic side will surely kick in. Donovan’s speed (of thought and feet) makes the United States dangerous on the counter. In the regular run of play Donovan is usefully versatile, more than credible as a set-up man or as a finisher near goal.
He’s also a good delivery man on set pieces; Omar Gonzalez (now front and center in the qualifying push) can be a real bother on attacking restarts, but only if the service is precise.
Plus, don’t underestimate the man’s psychological impact on match day; opponents’ awareness of Donovan’s ability creates pressure and alters strategic and tactical approaches. One for instance: with the program’s all-time leading scorer on the field, Clint Dempsey gets a little less attention.
Again, this is all about where Donovan’s motivation lands, about the ability to rediscover the requisite fire and desire. Talented as he is, even Donovan cannot perform at international level if he cannot light the fuses of ambition rediscovered.