For the past six months or so, Landon Donovan has lived, at certain key times, much like you or me—taking in United States men's national team matches from the comfort of his own home. But after word leaked Tuesday that he will be part of the U.S. roster for this summer's Gold Cup, Donovan can return to the business of being The Greatest Yank of Them All.
That is, if he's still got it. To make his way back into the national-team picture, Donovan will have to prove himself like any other player.
On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported that Donovan will be selected for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's Gold Cup roster (Donovan had already been included in the preliminary roster). The Gold Cup, the continental championship of CONCACAF (North and Central America), will run from July 6-28 in 13 U.S. cities. The winner will face the 2015 champion in a playoff for a spot at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Make no mistake, though. Those aren't the only stakes for the U.S. at this tournament. For one thing, there's the business of building two whole rosters capable of competing at the international level, a goal Klinsmann mentioned as early as January. And perhaps just as importantly, there's the Donovan situation.
At 31, Donovan is the national team's active caps leader with 144, and he holds all-time team records for goals (49) and assists (48). He is a veteran of three World Cups and the best American player ever.
He also hasn't played for his country in almost a year.
Donovan's most recent international appearance came Aug. 15, 2012, against Mexico, the night the U.S. defeated El Tri at the Azteca for the first time. After helping the Los Angeles Galaxy win their second straight MLS Cup final in December, Donovan took an extended break from soccer, citing exhaustion, and even threatened retirement.
The sabbatical kept Donovan out of the Americans' early matches in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and Klinsmann was apparently not pleased. Since announcing in March his intention to return to the team, Donovan has not earned a single call-up.
Part of the reason for that was probably Donovan's lack of match fitness, at least at one point, and another reason had to be the strong performances of Graham Zusi in Donovan's customary position. Whatever Klinsmann's reasons were, Donovan has begun showing signs of contrition.
“I do miss (being with the national team),” Donovan told MLSSoccer.com this month. “I want to be out there, but the reality is different. So when I get my chance, I'll be ready.”
Per Tuesday's news, Donovan will have his chance next month. The catch is that he'll be part of what amounts to an American B-team. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.
Word leaked Tuesday, per MLSSoccer.com, that another member of the U.S. Gold Cup squad will be Jack McInerney, a 20-year-old striker who has scored 10 goals in 16 appearances this season for the Philadelphia Union. For Donovan, who was also a 20-year-old prodigy at an international tournament once upon a time, playing with such an exciting young talent could be exactly what he needs at this point in his career.
With a strong performance at the Gold Cup, Donovan could even work his way back into the A-team for the remainder of World Cup qualifying. Eventually, that might mean a swansong at next summer's World Cup in Brazil, but for now the question remains as to whether the U.S. even needs him.
After a slow start to the Hexagonal, the U.S. has found its stride, winning three straight matches to storm to the top of the group with qualification all but assured. But whether the U.S. needs Donovan, at least one American wants him back on the squad.
"Landon's Landon," said DaMarcus Beasley, according to Kelly Whiteside of USA Today Sports, another veteran of three World Cups. "Once he gets four or five more games, he'll be good as new. Going into the last part of qualifying, I hope he goes into the Gold Cup and shows he belongs. We all know he does. He just has to show it."
And now Donovan has the stage to do just that.
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