Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Landon Donovan has a proven track record against Mexico, so it came as a bit of a surprise when it was revealed that he was not in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s starting lineup for their Wednesday friendly vs. El Tri.
It also came as a result of a bothersome knee and some poor training session.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters follow his side’s 2-2 draw with Mexico at University of Phoenix Stadium on Wednesday night that he chose not to start Donovan because the veteran midfielder had not performed well in training in the days leading up to the friendly.
Part of the reason for that was down to Donovan experiencing some tendinitis in his knee, something that allowed for Klinsmann to bring Donovan off the bench and start Chris Wondolowski in his place.
“He had no tempo in his training sessions, he had no kind of higher pace, higher rhythm, he didn’t take people on, so I sat him down (Wednesday) morning and we actually went through his training session yesterday,” said Klinsmann. “I told him based on what I saw the last three days, ‘I can’t leave Wondo out there because Wondo deserves after two goals against South Korea (in January). He’s working so hard.’
“(Donovan) understood it. He understood it. He said, ‘Yeah, I didn’t have good training sessions and I have a little bit of issues with my knee,’ and I told him, ‘You’re ready coming off the bench.’ He was ready, he came off the bench, so no problem at all.”
Donovan entered the game in the 59th minute, replacing a solid Graham Zusi on the right flank. The 32-year-old Donovan was not overly impressive, but he had some positive contributions and said afterwards that the condition of his knee had improved.
“It’s okay now,” said Donovan. “It was hurting earlier in the week, but it’s just one of those things where it’s better to be cautious at this point then put more pressure on it.”
Here are more notes from USMNT camp:
STARTING CENTERBACK SPOTS STILL UP FOR GRABS
The de facto centerback pairing for much of the past year has been Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. The two MLS standouts have enjoyed solid games under Klinsmann despite still being relatively new to the international stage and look to complement each other well.
They are still not guaranteed to start this summer, though.
Klinsmann said following the game that the competition for the top two centerback spots was still open. He added that it was difficult to say by how much, but Wednesday’s match with Mexico was a clear indicator that the heart of the American defense is far from settled.
The U.S. back line struggled mightily in the second half, especially Gonzalez. The veteran central defender was partially at fault for both goals in a second half that saw Mexico respond and rally.
Besler fared drastically better before making way for Clarence Goodson just before the hour-mark, but not even the Sporting Kansas City defender’s starting spot is safe. Not when his form in MLS has been below his usual standards.
“We have with Geoff Cameron another guy that can play centerback, John Anthony Brooks another,” said Klinsmann when asked about Gonzalez’s starting spot. “That’s why I will bring into camp more players than 23 to see then what stage they are, how long they can maintain that focus, that alertness and that sharpness that you need on international level.
“It’s normal that they struggle right now because they barely start their season. They have 2-3 games in their season, so Mexico is far ahead of us in terms of rhythm and stuff like that. We are patient in the process. Obviously, in two months from now, I will make the decisions who is going to be the ideal pairing and the two centerbacks.”
KLINSMANN STRESSES NEED TO LEARN TO PLAY COMPLETE GAME
Klinsmann quantified the U.S’s ability to play at its utmost best on Wednesday by saying the Americans can sustain their top level for 55-60 minutes.
Finding a way to do that for the entirety of a match before the World Cup is the next step.
Wednesday was a prime example of the U.S. being unable to keep playing as good as it can for a full 90 minutes. The Americans dominated Mexico for much of the first half, dizzying their southern rivals with the type of movement and one- and two-touch passing that most teams dream of playing with.
That all changed once the second half came. Mexico looked like the team in control once the intermission ended and closing 45 minutes kicked off, sending waves of attacks at a U.S. back line that bent before eventually breaking.
Clearly, there is work to be done for the Americans ahead of June’s visit to Brazil.
“Part of it is just now being together more, having more of an understanding, which comes from now being in a camp together over a longer period of time, playing more,” said midfielder Michael Bradley. “The other part will certainly come from some physical work before the World Cup. I know that in those two weeks (of preparation) in Stanford, certainly there’s going to be some hard work and we need that.
“We have to understand that for us to go into a World Cup and have a real chance at making a run, we’ve got to be the fittest team there, we’ve got to be able to play at a pace and a tempo for 90 minutes that other teams aren’t comfortable dealing with, and we have to be able to do that every three or four days. That’s what we have to be about.”
What do you make of Klinsmann’s decision to bench Donovan? Who is your preferred starting centerback tandem? Think the U.S. will be able to play at its top level for 90 minutes?
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