After coming off the bench in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s most recent friendly match against Mexico, Landon Donovan should get accustomed to that role, because coming off the bench should be what Donovan does for the U.S. during the 2014 World Cup.
Donovan may have been an American hero during the last World Cup, but he’s contributed little to U.S. soccer during the last four years, and he hasn’t earned a spot in Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting 11 based on what he’s done since Klinsmann took over. At the moment, Donovan may not even be guaranteed a spot on the roster, much less a spot in the starting 11 after he made little impact in the Mexico match, and the team played much better in the first half without him.
Of course, not being in the starting lineup doesn’t mean Donovan can’t be a key player for the Americans this summer; in fact, the U.S. is going to need him if they’re going to advance to the knockout stage, but it just won’t happen as a starter. Donovan can give the U.S. a spark off the bench when they’re in search of a goal. He’s still a skilled player who’s dangerous in open space and can score goals and set up his teammates for goals.
Think back to the last World Cup when the U.S. trailed Slovenia 2-0 at halftime, it was Donovan who sparked the comeback immediately after halftime by being aggressive and scoring a goal early in the second half. Granted, Donovan started that game, but if he can bring that same aggressiveness and sense of urgency coming off the bench as a sub in the second half of matches during the World Cup, Donovan will be an invaluable asset for the U.S.
Donovan isn’t the same player he’s been in past World Cups, and he’s not going to be able to play 90 minutes for three straight matches during the group stage and be an effective player. But he still has enough pace to run by defenders at times, and he would be much better at it if his legs were fresh while going up against defenders that had already been playing for 60 minutes. Playing the final 30 minutes of a match with pace and aggressiveness when the U.S. is in need of a goal would be the perfect role for Donovan during the World Cup this summer.
It’s not the role he’s used to playing with the national team, but at this stage in his career it could be the role that fits him best. If Klinsmann wants to maximize efficiency and get the most out of his players this summer, then he should use Donovan as a sub during the World Cup.
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 on Google.