Landon Donovan: Assessing His Role as USMNT Gets Further into Qualifying
"Life without Landon Donovan": four words that have been thrown in the same sentence a lot recently. Hopefully, when the roster is revealed for the upcoming matches against Costa Rica and Mexico it will be four words that will never be spoken again in the same sentence.
At least until after Brazil in 2014.
The absence of the best player in the history of the United States was crystal clear against Honduras. The attack was punch-less, the creativity was scant and the chance creation was minimal.
No width either, another critical issue.
The insertion of Donovan into the starting 11 fixes many of these problems almost instantly. It takes the scoring pressure off of Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, and it gives a wide threat for Michael Bradley to utilize his crafty long passing.
If Donovan decides to return for both the Costa Rica match and the Mexico match, Jurgen Klinsmann is best-served deploying him on the right flank. Switch the formation from the 4-3-3 with three defensive-midfielders to a 4-4-1-1. Keep Jermaine Jones stationed below Bradley in the middle and slot Brek Shea opposite Donovan on the left side of the park. Play Dempsey in behind a true No. 9 striker in Jozy Altidore.
This gives the central midfielders more room to operate (the three were cluttered in Honduras) and plays to everyone's strengths. Allow Shea and Donovan to attack at will with Jones providing cover when necessary. Permit Dempsey to float where he sees fit and instruct Altidore to lay off balls with one touch, combine with midfielders and get on the end of crosses.
Having no insider knowledge of Donovan's plans, my gut tells me he returns for the next set of matches. Both Sunil Gulati (via AOLSportingNews) and Bruce Arena (via Goal.com) have stated that they intend to see him playing again.
For an athlete with the competitive DNA Donovan possesses, it had to have been painful watching his teammates struggle against Honduras without him.
He is one of the emotional leaders of this team so not only will his presence help in terms of tactics but also in motivation.
The best players on the team—Dempsey, Bradley, Tim Howard, Altidore—are all made better because Donovan has a skill set they do not. The LA Galaxy man combines speed and one-on-one dribbling ability with phenomenal vision and work rate.
Or, in other words, everything the team lacked in Honduras.
This will be an entirely new outfit when he returns.
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