Chances are, Landon Donovan’s absence from the upcoming U.S. national team friendlies is about his recent ankle issues and nothing more.
But when SI.com’s Grant Wahl reported Sunday that Donovan would not be included in upcoming matches against Scotland and Austria, some speculation was bound to fall.
The United States meets Scotland on Friday at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, and then travels into Austria for a match next week in Vienna. Neither team qualified for the upcoming World Cup.
U.S. boss Jurgen Klinsmann wants the strongest squad possible for the friendlies. In fact, he wants the very best bunch he can assemble for every camp and every match from now until the World Cup begins in just over six months. The time for kicking tires on new players is pretty much over; it’s all about polishing and refining, and that means calling the best players available whenever the team gets together.
Donovan is almost certainly one of his top 23 men. (That’s the magic number, since next year’s World Cup roster will be the usual 23-man assembly.)
But any absence is bound to fuel speculation, given Donovan’s complicated relationship with professional soccer and with the U.S. national team over the last couple of years.
The national team and Major League Soccer all-time scoring leader hurt his ankle during an MLS match on Sept. 14. After sitting out for about two weeks, Donovan was back on the field for an important contest against Portland on Sept. 29, but later said it probably would have been wise to remain out longer.
He kept playing through the MLS playoff stretch drive, and then into the post-season until the Galaxy was eliminated. (Which happened just days ago as the Galaxy fell to Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals.)
So it’s logical to assume this is just about getting his ankle right.
Still, there was that odd instant in one of the final World Cup qualifying matches, where Donovan left at halftime in Kansas City against Jamaica, a surprising moment that appeared performance based. So, there’s your beginning point for speculation of further fissure between Donovan and Klinsmann.