I never quite figured out why so many U.S. Soccer supporters were so quick to dismiss Landon Donovan’s contributions to the national team.
A lot of fans did appreciate how Donovan’s speed, technical ability, versatility and clever soccer brain could gin up the product. But a significant slice of the supporter pie did not like the fellow, for whatever reason, and allowed that to could their judgment and diminish how they perceived his talent.
Well, to that group I ask: What do you think about Landon Donovan today?
Because the United States sure as shootin’ missed the man last night.
(I keep thinking of the Filter song Take a Picture, which builds to the lead singer screaming, “Hey, Dad, what do you think about your son now?” Such anger!)
To put a very fine point on it, the United States did not have an Oscar Boniek Garcia.
Honduras has a swell team, one that likes to attack and has a good plan built around strong elements. One of those is right-sided attacker Boniek Garcia, a Designated Player with the Houston Dynamo, the two-time MLS runner-up.
His ability to run in behind defenses kept U.S. outside back Fabian Johnson honest along the left side. And Boniek Garcia’s ability to take on defenders or to slash into spaces between defenders is exactly what the United States missed. They needed someone to inspire something better out of a languid attack.
He was a “difference maker.” Honduras had one yesterday in San Pedro Sula and the United States did not. Thus, the home team came up with the second goal and walked with all the points.
Tied at 1-1, this was exactly the kind of tight, crucial game that Donovan had ripped open several times before with a shrewd and assertive run off the ball, or by going around a defender for a game-changing shot, or with a laser-precision free kick.
Think of it this way: Jurgen Klinsmann used Eddie Johnson on the left. We can all debate about whether Brad Davis, Sacha Kljestan, Jose Torres, Brad Evans or someone else entirely might have been a better choice. In retrospect, use of Johnson in that spot, in this situation, does look somewhat naïve.
But we know Klinsmann would have used Donovan there (or on the other side) if he was available rather than on sabbatical.
Not only would Donovan have improved on U.S. midfield possession (Yuk!), his presence alone might have shifted the balance. Honduras bossed the midfield, partly because there wasn’t much to worry about coming from the visitors. Someone likes Donovan helps move the initiative the U.S. way; yesterday, Honduras always had the initiative.
There’s a reason Donovan is the country’s all-time scoring leader.
And he hits a pretty good assisting ball, too.