A few things we know about Landon Donovan as we ponder what might be ricocheting around in Jurgen Klinsmann’s brain ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica and Tuesday’s bitter border battle against Mexico:
Donovan can play pretty much any attacking position. The Galaxy and U.S. all-time leading scorer is clearly not at his best when manning the most advanced position; Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson and perhaps even Aron Johannsson are better options on the current 23-man roster.
Donovan lately has played most frequently in the second forward position, manning this role for the Galaxy, alongside Robbie Keane, and for the national team, where he sat slightly deeper in the midfield during that Gold Cup burst of statement matches. But that’s Clint Dempsey’s position in a U.S. shirt, and not even Donovan is taking that spot from Dempsey.
But where Donovan has aligned himself tactically lately does not mean much. Why is that? Because we also know that Klinsmann never fears placing his men into positions with which they are lesser familiar (although positions they have, perhaps, occupied previously).
Geoff Cameron as a hold midfielder? Sure!
DaMarcus Beasley or Jose Torres as a left back? Let’s give that a go! Eddie Johnson out wide? Sounds good!
Yes, Klinsmann will gladly roll the dice – and it’s a low risk gambit with someone like Donovan, who has a great soccer brain.
What that means, in a word, is “options.”
Look at the diagram above for where the 31-year-old attacker has been most often positioned in recent years.
He played frequently on the right last year for L.A., tending to lean heavily inside and take on some of the advanced playmaking chores. That was mostly about providing balance for David Beckham’s tendency to create from deeper spots, and the Englishman’s tendency to drift right, the best place for whipping in those signature crosses.
But Donovan has also played along the left, both for the Galaxy and for his country. That’s where Bob Bradley used Donovan frequently in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup (and then slightly less once Dempsey begin playing out wide for the United States, as he did so much for Fulham back then.)
Again, Donovan leaned significantly inside, just as Dempsey did from that left-sided spot, clearing room for overlapping outside backs and adding pressure to defenses through wisely timed, diagonal runs.
Back in earlier days Donovan sometimes lined up a bit further back in the formation for the Galaxy as a central, attacking midfielder. The opposing defense that could not track his driving runs from that spot was a defense about to get shredded.
So, back to where Donovan lines up Friday? Some could depend on Altidore’s health. Either way, the best guess is that Donovan will come off the bench, a useful replacement for Graham Zusi on the right, or for Dempsey in the middle or for Fabian Johnson (or whomever lines up left). Whichever man looks gassed or just isn’t getting the job done … in comes Donovan.