Landon Donovan is back to his old United States men’s national soccer team ways: scorching defenders for the fun of it.
While he might look like a kid out on the field, gleefully celebrating goal after goal with teammates, the all-time leading scorer in U.S. men’s soccer history is performing with a sense of intelligence that has brought him to another footballing level.
There is always the question of where to deploy Donovan on the field. He is talented and versatile enough to effectively play multiple offensive positions.
Under former U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley, the Los Angeles Galaxy star was almost exclusively used as a winger. Donovan had license to move centrally if he saw fit, but he always started a match looking to hug the touchline, beat defenders with pace and serve appetizing crosses into the mixer.
During this Gold Cup, LD’s role for the USMNT has changed from an outright winger to more of a central attacker. He plays with the ultimate freedom to terrorize defenses from both sides of the field. This has worked to perfection and emboldens two of his main strengths: creating and finishing.
He was adept enough at playing with his back to goal against Honduras to make a brilliant lay-off assist in traffic on Eddie Johnson’s tally. He was also skilled enough to calmly chest a pass to his foot under serious pressure to score the team’s second goal.
He put the icing on the cake by instantly responding to a Honduras goal that made the score 2-1. Donovan streaked past a defender on a run into the box and coolly finished an insurance goal that sucked the momentum out of the Honduran side. This was vintage Donovan, and it reminded us all of his knack for timely goals.
Any questions regarding his inclusion in the team have clearly been answered. The predicament for Jurgen Klinsmann now becomes how to unleash Donovan in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers when Klinsmann will have his entire roster at his disposal.
The current U.S. captain, Clint Dempsey, has filled the second striker role in the team’s last three World Cup qualifiers and has done so with a similar superior soccer IQ, like Donovan has.
With Jozy Altidore’s impressive form, it seems unlikely that LD and Deuce will play deployed up top together.
The most probable spot for Donovan might well be as a left winger—he seems more conducive to the switch than Dempsey does, and the two simply must be on the field at the same time in the Yanks' most important matches.
Playing him as an outside midfielder might force Donovan to defend more than the team would prefer, but it does offer a creative force on the flank that nicely complements what the central players—Dempsey, Altidore and Michael Bradley—bring to an offense.
Klinsmann has some difficult decisions to make in regard to tactics and Landon Donovan in the coming year.
Thoughtful comments regarding where Donovan should be played going forward for the U.S. are always welcome!