Few players have been as instrumental in the success of American soccer as Landon Donovan. With his return to the U.S. men’s national team, there’s an added sense of excitement for the 2014 World Cup.
Donovan ended his four-plus-month leave from the team with an appearance in its 6-0 win over Guatemala Friday night, making his presence felt from start to finish with a pair of goals.
Those goals added to his already impressive USMNT goals record, finishing the match with 51 for his career. The United States could have won without Donovan, but it was certainly a nice sign to see him back in the fold.
Donovan still faces some major questions ahead of the 2014 World Cup, though. His return was noteworthy on many levels, but there’s no guarantee he’ll decide to stick around for the biggest tournament in soccer next year.
Still, Donovan wouldn’t have come back to the team were his heart not in it, and his presence had to have been a major boost for a team looking to make a splash in Brazil next year.
The 31-year-old took some heat for his comments regarding his vacation from the team several months ago. At the time, Donovan claimed he didn’t feel obligated to play for the USMNT, as quoted by Jeff Bradley of MLSSoccer.com:
"I don’t feel any obligation to play. I think I’ve put a lot into this whole thing. I’m proud of what I’ve done and what I’ve been a part of. But I can’t fake it."
Those comments were certainly troubling. By his own account, Donovan’s heart just didn’t seem into it.
But his remarks following the 6-0 win against Guatemala should quell some of those concerns and give the United States reason to be hopeful for its World Cup chances.
As quoted by Christopher Hanewinckel of USA Today, the attacking midfielder felt a lot less pressure following his opening goal and stressed the team aspect of the match:
This was a good way to take the pressure off and enjoy what I'm doing. It certainly helps to hit the net. That was really nice. I was appreciative to be able to have an opportunity to score tonight, especially one that wasn't a penalty. Getting to 50 and beyond means a lot, but results are most important. We certainly got a good one tonight.
Donovan didn’t say he got a good one, nor did he stress how well he played. What those remarks prove is that Donovan is still very much concerned with the success of the team, even if he still doesn’t feel obligated to participate.
By all indications, Donovan is back in the fold, ready to help lead the team to success ahead of the World Cup. His presence may impede the team’s chemistry in the coming months, but that doesn’t mean the USMNT should be any less excited that he’s still doing what he’s always done—scoring goals and providing leadership for the team.
As quoted by Hanewinckel, coach Jurgen Klinsmann obviously understands that fact:
We're happy that Landon picked up his rhythm and is part of the group again. Goals certainly help. For any offensive player, that's the best recipe. This group hasn't trained together much, so we need to adjust to each other and build chemistry. It's not so fluid right now, and the guys know that. We'll keep working and keep training with the goal of peaking towards the end of the tournament.
The Gold Cup will be a terrific chance for the team to continue developing that chemistry with Donovan in the fold. His vacation from the team is reason for cautious optimism, but don’t expect his teammates to focus on anything but the fact that he’s back at it.
From a strategic standpoint, there’s no denying Donovan’s importance to the squad. Even at 31, the winger obviously still has the legs to provide a boost to the team’s attack, even if his return was against an overmatched Guatemalan team in a friendly competition.
Donovan not only netted two goals, but he was also instrumental in distribution, giving the Unites States a new crease in its attack. Simply put, Donovan is critical to the team’s long-term success.
Klinsmann will have to decide if Donovan is right for the team when making roster decision for the World Cup, but the midfielder didn’t exactly hurt his chances with two goals on Friday. As long as he proves he’s willing to be a part of the team going forward, no one will complain if he remains on the roster for Brazil in 2014.