How Does Landon Donovan Fit With U.S. Soccer’s A-Lineup?
So, Landon Donovan, you’ve just led the United States National Team to the 2013 Gold Cup championship, what are you going to do next? No, that’s not a clever reference to the traditional post-game interview with the Super Bowl MVP; it’s the question that’s actually on the minds of U.S. soccer fans. Now that the Gold Cup is over, what is next for Donovan when it comes to the national team?
One of the things we learned about the U.S. from the Gold Cup is that Donovan definitely has a future with the national team, rightfully earning a spot with his play throughout the last three weeks. But does Donovan want to continue to be a part of the national team? Does he want to participate in the final four games of 2014 World Cup Qualifying after missing more than half of the games in the final group stage, or just wait until the 2014 World Cup next summer to rejoin the team?
Assuming he does come back, the most important question becomes: after being the star of the team throughout the Gold Cup, how will Donovan integrate himself with the U.S. A-team, alongside the team’s other stars like Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley?
In recent qualifying matches, the U.S. has settled into a lineup with Altidore as the lone striker up top and Dempsey playing right below him, at times playing like a midfielder and at times playing like a second forward next to Altidore. Donovan could take over Dempsey’s position, which is the position he played during the Gold Cup and the position where he might be the most dangerous, but that would mean interrupting what has been working for the U.S. during qualifying, while also forcing Dempsey to switch positions.
It’s also possible for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to insert Donovan as a wing midfielder, where the U.S. has a lot of capable players, but none who have solidified starting roles for next summer and none who would start over Donovan if that’s where Klinsmann wanted to play him. Of course, playing him on the wing would force him to do more defending and take away some of his freedom of movement, which could get in the way of Donovan doing what he does best.
One possibility would be to use Donovan as a substitute. This is obviously less likely because it would mean playing one of the team’s best players for less than 90 minutes, but it would allow the U.S. lineup that has played so well in recent qualifying matches to remain in tact, and give Donovan the opportunity to become a catalyst for the team in situations when they are in need of a goal, something he did at the 2010 World Cup in games against Slovenia and Algeria.
World Cup Qualifying will resume again in September, and that should shed more light on Donovan’s future and role with the national team, but until then there are a lot of questions to ask and a lot of things to consider. Donovan certainly has the ability to take the U.S. to the next level, but how he will fit in when he gets back to playing with the A-lineup is far less certain.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.