The implications of Landon Donovan’s injury are clear to the United States national team: if Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have a bad night in two matches over the next 10 days, they could be out of the World Cup.
It’s not that Donovan is so irreplaceable in the cause – he’s valuable, for sure, but Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard are equally as essential at this point. The point here is that “zero margin for error” factor we talked about before.
The United States should still be OK … it’s just that a couple of less-than-ideal results have created a situation where a wobble could be historically costly.
Now … as for why Donovan’s injury could be so critical to the Galaxy, let’s start with a look at the Western Conference standings:
San Jose is clearly out of reach for everyone, having officially clinched the Western Conference crown.
For the Galaxy, third place is the prize. The difference between second and third is marginal (although it could become important if upsets rule the playoffs, as it would then help dictate the site for MLS Cup 2012 under the new format.)
Bruce Arena’s team probably cannot catch Real Salt Lake anyway. Any combination of two points earned for RSL or lost by the Galaxy puts the men from Utah out of reach for Los Angeles.
That third place, however, is critical – and Seattle gained the inside track last night. Seattle now has two games in hand over L.A., including tonight’s big event against rival Portland. So the Galaxy probably need to pick up all six points over its remaining pair for any chance of keeping that razor-thin one-point margin over the Sounders.
Donovan has been in bright form since returning from an August injury, working some splendid connections with Robbie Keane. He is more important to the Galaxy than to the national team, relative weight of the stakes notwithstanding.
The Galaxy’s last two are at San Jose and – here’s where it gets interesting – at home against Seattle.
The difference between third and fourth place is an extra post-season contest, one additional shot at potential elimination, plus the physical toll that goes with it.
How the possibly injured Donovan sees the playoff scenario and the Galaxy’s chase for third place:
That’s the goal, but that goal just got a lot more difficult. We’re probably going to have to win both games and then see what happens. These were always going to be hard games. This was a disappointing one because we’re playing a team that was within reach so then now they built a little bit of a gap, but we’ve known all along that this is going to be a battle at the end. Ideally, we don’t play in the [Knock Out Round game] but if that’s what happens then we’re a team that can overcome.”