The news was not good for the United States men's national team on Tuesday, but does that mean it was bad?
The U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Tuesday that Landon Donovan and Brek Shea had withdrawn from the American roster to face Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala in an upcoming pair of make-or-break World Cup qualifiers.
Donovan suffered a knee injury in the LA Galaxy’s 2-1 loss this past Saturday night. He will return to Los Angeles later today to be further evaluated by club doctors.
Shea entered camp with an abdominal strain that he kept him sidelined for FC Dallas since Sept. 29. Shea will continue treatment in Dallas.
The losses of Donovan and Shea leave the U.S. even shorter of offensive options. Striker Jozy Altidore, a regular in the U.S. attack over the last year, was left off the roster. Meanwhile, coach Jurgen Klinsmann did not name replacements for Donovan and Shea.
“It’s unfortunate for Landon and Brek that they won’t be able to play,” said Klinsmann. “…We feel confident that the group we have will get the job done.”
Klinsmann might be confident, but the loss of Donovan—and to a much lesser extent, Shea—will trouble American fans. Donovan, 30, has scored more goals, recorded more assists and started more matches than any other international in U.S. history.
What's more, offensive production has been slow at times for the U.S. in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying. Through four matches, the Americans have scored six goals, or 1.5 per match.
With seven points, Klinsmann's team finds itself in a precarious position, tied with Guatemala and Jamaica atop the Group A standings. The top two teams advance to the final round of qualifying, where the top three teams will automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
In such a tight group, wins—and thus goals—are at a premium over the final two matches. That would seem to make Donovan's absence a major problem for the U.S.
Yet Donovan has played just twice in the current World Cup qualifying cycle, home to Antigua and Barbuda and at Guatemala. In those two appearances, he did not score or directly assist a goal. Against Antigua and Barbuda, his corner led to Carlos Bocanegra's first-half goal.
Donovan still serves as an important and inspirational player for the U.S., but at age 30, his influence is waning.
Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi impressed in the "Donovan role" on the right side of the U.S. midfield in the second Jamaica match, combining well with full-back Steve Cherundolo and providing dangerous crosses throughout his time on the pitch.
Zusi is in the squad for the final two qualifiers, and he should see more playing time this week if Klinsmann was paying attention in September. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder/forward Clint Dempsey is in the squad and has returned to full match fitness.
Taken all together, those developments suggest that Donovan's absence doesn't necessarily mean an impending calamity for the U.S.
The emergence of Zusi and the continued excellence of Dempsey don't necessarily mean the U.S. has moved on from the Donovan era entirely, but the next two results should show that the loss of Donovan is no longer as disastrous as it would have been four years ago in the previous World Cup cycle.