By IVES GALARCEP
ARLINGTON, Va. - If you were expecting Landon Donovan to just walk back into the U.S. Men’s National Team set-up easily, think again.
U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann sounded like a coach who isn’t totally convinced just yet that there is a place on the current U.S. team for the all-time career leader in U.S. national team goals.
Donovan returned from his lengthy sabbatical after missing a trio of U.S. World Cup qualifiers, and his time away from the team (which included missed games in 2012 due to injury) has left some real questions about just how he fits into the team at the moment.
“There are questions,” Klinsmann said in a media gathering near Washington. “Looking back now in the last two years we’re in charge of the program we’ve seen a lot of players coming through and making big impacts, showing that they are a thousand percent committed to the cause and to the team and built themselves strong positions.
Donovan’s impressive performance in the Galaxy’s 2-0 win vs. Sporting Kansas City provided a reminder about the quality that he can bring to the table, but Klinsmann was careful to point out that Donovan’s time away from the national team has allowed other players to move past him in the team’s pecking order.
“Not talking out names, but there are players clearly ahead of Landon Donovan in how we see things,” Klinsmann said. “Again, things will develop over time. We see now how he will do in the next couple of weeks, months, and we’ll look at the entire picture and make our calls.”
While Klinsmann wouldn’t come outright and say it, some of his comments about Donovan seemed to suggest that he wouldn’t necessarily be a comfortable fit on the team now after featuring in just eight of the team’s past 25 matches, and missing the team’s past eight matches, including three Hexagonal Round qualifiers.
“We observe what the players are doing in camp, how we’re going through that stretch of very difficult qualifying games. We see the chemistry of the team developing and we try to have a clear picture of every individual player and what they brings to the table in moving this team forward,” Klinsmann said.
“Most of the time (Donovan) was not part of that process,” Klinsmann said. “That was his choice, and I totally understand that, and it’s no problem, but at the same time we’re moving forward at our speed.
“There is a chemistry being developed of a group and you always have to feel where this whole thing is moving towards, and he hasn’t been a part of that development of this team most of the time over the past two years.”
“It’s not down to one game, where you score one goal and say ‘I’m back on the team’. It’s not working that way.
“We’ll observe him like we observe all the other players over the stretch of the longer period and then we’ll decide if he’s part of that picture or not.”
Klinsmann and Donovan have not spoken since Donovan returned to action with the Galaxy, even though Klinsmann attended the Galaxy’s recent win against Sporting KC, a match that Donovan delivered a goal and assist in.
“We spoke at length at the end of January, where he said he didn’t know yet when to come back,” Klinsmann said. “Obviously he made this choice to come back at the end of March when we were busy with Costa Rica and with Mexico.
“I’m just glad to see him back on the field,” Klinsmann said. “He’s catching up and is trying his best. I’m watching, and I was actually at that (LA Galaxy-Sporting KC) game.
“Down the road I will make my decisions in terms of who I see in front of him in the depth chart we have,” Klinsmann said. “In terms of where we see him right now in terms of the roster and then I will decide whether to bring him in or not bring him in.”
So is Klinsmann serious or just posturing? More importantly, who exactly are these players currently ahead of Landon Donovan on the USMNT depth chart? Based on Klinsmann’s comments, it sounds as though concerns about team chemistry are a bigger obstacle to a Donovan return than his competition for a roster spot.
If Donovan returns to dominant form with the Galaxy, it will be tough for Klinsmann to leave him off the U.S. squad, but if Klinsmann’s concerns about team chemistry are legitimate, even good form might not be enough to earn him a call-up in May.
What do you think of Klinsmann’s comments? Think he has a point in being hesitant to bring Donovan back? See the team being able to win consistently without Donovan?
Share your thoughts below.