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Was Sunday the Beginning of Landon Donovan’s USMNT End?

June 21, 2011

Was Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria the peak of his international career?

As we all know, people in the news & particularly those in the business of blogging are “successful” when their opinions get attention.  Most often this is accomplished by embellishment and overreaction, something of which I normally try to avoid.  So if the title of this article seems a bit reactive…irrational…even offensive, please forgive me.  It’s an honest thought that I’ve been bouncing around in my head over the past few days.

The reasons for such internal banter are threefold.  First, the movement created by the USMNT in the Jamaica match was spunky, generally sharp, and aggressive in ways that are abnormal for these Yankee eyes.  The occurred most notably during Landon’s “enjoyable” 60 minutes on the bench.  The second reason for my thoughts are the obvious decline in LD’s play since the end of the world cup.  At times he looks disinterested, at times he seems to shy away from the spotlight, and at others he simply doesn’t seem to have “it”. There are number of possible explanations for this, but it’s hard not to see a difference.  Lastly, the next World Cup isn’t for 3 more years.  By that point, Landon will be 32, and the World Cup is a young man’s tournament.  The United States has to start preparing realistically for that moment.

Let me be clear.  Landon Donovan is still a pillar for this US soccer team and I don’t expect for him to drop off of the radar anytime soon.  In fact, it would likely only be as a result of injury that he would be left off of the 2014 World Cup roster.  But it is also clear that this team is no longer completely dependent on his presence to put on an effective offensive performance together.  The performances of both Alejandro Bedoya, and maybe more importantly Sacha Kljestan(not to mention the presence of Stuart Holden looming in the injured background) have given the US hope for the future of its creative midfield once both Donovan and Dempsey step to the side.  The pertinent question is when the two offensive stars will be willing to take that step to the side.

Clint Dempsey has made it clear that he is in no mood to move over.  In fact, he has made it clear that he is just now playing the best soccer of his career and still has intentions of playing in the Champions League. Contrast that with Landon, who has seemed content with his single successful jaunt into the English Premier League and now continues to bide his time in Major League Soccer.  It has been a year since he took control of a match for the national team, and while there is still the possibility for two more matches in this tournament, very little of his play has suggested he is ready to take over such a game.  Instead, his play has suggested he will play a nice contributory role that will be described with words like “leadership” and “experience” and not so much with words like “dominate” and “goal”.

Landon is the only player left in the USMNT pool who was on the 2002 World Cup roster, the very tournament where he rung the bell declaring himself as the future of US soccer.  He started out with a bang, and he reaffirmed his place in US soccer history with his performance last June.  But it is truly rare for a player to heavily contribute in 4 consecutive World Cups, and the odds are that Landon won’t be the central strengths of our team next time around.  Instead, that will likely be left to younger players such as Michael Bradley, Holden, Jozy Altidore, and Juan Agudelo.  Donovan will more than likely be left to a super sub role, something akin to Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s role for Mexico this past year.  It’s a role that Donovan showed just a few days ago could make for a very potent American bench.

Clint Dempsey is putting his own stamp on this national team and we have yet to see how Landon will respond.  It is entirely possible he will come back with a vengeance and prove every one my prognostications wrong.  But indications are showing that maybe this isn’t Landon Donovan’s team anymore.  That isn’t a bad thing, though.  The team we saw on Sunday is a more complete team than one that depends so greatly on one or two players.  The team we saw Sunday is a youthful side that will only grow and become more fierce as they continue to play together.  And the team we saw Sunday is important, because it is our future.  We should be looking towards the future, because after this coming Saturday, where we will hopefully defeat Mexico, there will not be another meaningful game for two years.  If this tournament does nothing else, maybe it will show that we have a bright future, with or without one of our all-time greats, Landon Donovan.

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