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Ives Galarcep

The two sides of the Landon Donovan debate

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When Landon Donovan decided to speak his mind and bash Jurgen Klinsmann after the U.S. national team’s exit from the World Cup, there appeared to be two quickly-forming schools of thought on his comments. There are those who agree with what Donovan said, and those who felt Donovan should have showed some class and kept his comments to himseilf, particularly because they came off as sour grapes by a player cut from the U.S. team.

It is hard to argue with the things Donovan said, particularly about Klinsmann’s deployment of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. What was interesting was what Donovan did not say outright, but seemed to clearly imply by his statements. That Klinsmann’s biggest mistake was not bringing Donovan to the World Cup.

Everyone who objected vociferously to Donovan’s exclusion when it first happened surely isn’t missing a chance to bask in the glow of “I told you so”, particularly when two players who beat out Donovan for spots failed to impress in Brazil.

Chris Wondolowski and Brad Davis simply didn’t do anything with their opportunities, which left the door open to second-guessing Klinsmann’s decision to leave Donovan out. The logic being Donovan couldn’t have done worse than either of those players at the World Cup.

That is certainly a fair point, but just how far we carry the “we missed Donovan” mantra should be considered carefully. Can we really assume Donovan would have shined at the World Cup? It is easy to remember the Donovan of the Algeria goal in 2010, and he of the five career World Cup goals, could have mustered some magic to help push the U.S. team a bit further than it ultimately reached.

That’s a fairly sizable assumption. Donovan’s presence wouldn’t have addressed either of the two most pressing needs for the U.S. in Brazil, a target forward presence to make up for the injury to Jozy Altidore, and midfielders capable of keeping possession against elite midfielders. Donovan could have helped the team on the counter, and given the U.S. a bit more attacking quality on the flank, but he was never going to be a player who could keep the ball and maintain possession to help the American defense cope with constant pressure from the likes of Germany and Belgium.

Having a Donovan to start in an attacking midfield spot, and allowing Michael Bradley to sit deeper in midfield, might have helped the team’s possession a bit, but then it’s tough to argue against the jobs that Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman did, so dropping Bradley into one of their spots wouldn’t have necessarily meant more possession.

What Donovan could have provided was a better spark off the bench than Davis, and you can make the argument he could have done better than Graham Zusi, No, Donovan probably wouldn’t have answered the U.S. team’s biggest problems, but you can certainly argue he would have helped make the team better.

All that said, you have to wonder how much team chemistry played into Klinsmann’s decision to exclude Donovan, and whether he was proven right in leaving him out from that standpoint. Donovan’s pointed comments both after being left off the team, and then after the team’s exit, made you wonder just how bad his relationship with Klinsmann was if he was willing to pull the knives out so quickly. And you wonder just how Donovan would have acted on this U.S. team had he been relegated to reserve duty.

We will never know how much of a difference Donovan could have made on the 2014 U.S. World Cup team, but we can say that Klinsmann could have found a way to put him on the team if he really wanted to. Instead, he rightfully turned to some younger players, while also swinging and missing on some MLS veterans who simply didn’t get the job done.

Because of that, we will be left with a legacy of second-guessing Klinsmann’s decision to exclude Donovan, along with a growing, if flattering, legend of what Donovan might have actually done if he had been given the chance to come play in Brazil.

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