With two starting forwards more or less in place for the Los Angeles Galaxy, with the bigger need in midfield, it looks like that’s where Landon Donovan will line up for Bruce Arena’s team when they get going in about a month.
That’s probably encouraging news for Jurgen Klinsmann and the national team; getting Donovan in top gear in a wider position seems like the ideal situation where U.S. pursuits are concerned.
It’s not that Donovan could not embrace an interior role with the Galaxy and then move to the outside for Klinsmann’s outfit once World Cup prep gets serious in May. The league’s and national team’s all-time leading scorer has certainly stated time and again that he will play wherever asked.
But to get the best from Donovan in a wide role – and they’ll need the “best” from each and every U.S. player against Ghana, Portugal and especially Germany come first-round game time in June – it’s best if he’s seamlessly transitioning. It’s best if the little nuances that come with playing along the outside, the thought processes and little calculations in positioning, are arriving that much faster, more “instinct” than “reaction.”
Donovan could certainly challenge Clint Dempsey as the second forward (a more central position) in the manager’s preferred 4-3-3 arrangement. Dempsey, as we know, hasn’t been at his best for some time.
But it seems as if the best way for Klinsmann to get as many of his top men, his wisest, most talented and most experienced players, into the starting 11 would be for Dempsey to retain his withdrawn, advanced role while Donovan uses that burst – yes, the 31-year-old still has a burst – along the outside.
Between Donovan, Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi, that gives Klinsmann three pretty good starting options, all with a slightly different skill set, which could help the manager arrange game-to-game tactics as dictated by opposition and matchups, etc.