Analyzing Landon Donovan's Future with USMNT Following Gold Cup Win
Landon Donovan is going to the World Cup.
Don't worry—I didn't somehow get the Gold Cup mixed up with World Cup qualifying. I know he's not actually going to the World Cup yet.
But Donovan's performance in the CONCACAF tournament, which culminated in a terrific all-around performance in the Americans' 1-0 final win over Panama on Sunday in Chicago, was undoubtedly enough to catapult him to the U.S. first team.
In fact, his play in the first match of the tournament against Belize was probably enough to earn a first-team spot. Heck, his performance against Guatemala in the friendly right before the tournament was enough.
Before that July 5 friendly, Donovan hadn't played in a Stars and Stripes shirt since June of 2012—a World Cup qualifier draw also against Guatemala. The man who had become the face of American soccer needed a mental break, but as that break wore on, many began to be convinced that his international career was all but over.
After 13 years, three World Cup appearances and more production than anyone else in United States history, there simply wasn't much left for him to accomplish. It was just an accepted inevitability that he was going to have to hang up his red, white and blue cleats at some point.
But when it was announced Donovan would be included in Jurgen Klinsmann's B squad at the Gold Cup, interest was suddenly piqued.
Donovan could have flopped, and it would have been an "oh well" moment. The boys on the first team just beat Germany and were on the brink of qualifying for the World Cup. They were doing just fine without the 31-year-old:
But all we needed was a glimpse. We've seen what Donovan is capable of, and if he were to show even the tiniest glimpse of being back in form, there would be no question of his ability to help the first team.
Well, Donovan didn't show a glimpse; he gave us the whole freaking show. There was no doubt he was the best player of the tournament, and he was rewarded justly with the Golden Ball:
The United States scored 20 goals in its six tournament wins, and Donovan had five goals and seven assists. Those five goals tied him with teammate Chris Wondolowski and Panama's Gabriel Torres for the Golden Boot.
Donovan was directly involved in 60 percent of the Americans' goals, and that's not even counting the couple others where he was part of the buildup but didn't record an actual assist, such as the lone goal in Sunday's final.
It was a truly transcendent performance. Like a mean P.E. teacher going 110 percent against a bunch of kindergartners, Donovan was able to do whatever he wanted on the pitch.
He played a variety of positions. He showed off fresh legs and good speed. He picked out the right passes and consistently delivered them with deadly, world-class accuracy.
Will Landon Donovan be starting for the United States in the 2014 World Cup?
His finishing ability often left a little to be desired (even though he finished with a tournament-high five goals), but that's not the role he'll play with the first team; he'll move back into the midfield and serve more as a playmaker than goalscorer.
It's true that as the Americans inevitably advance to the 2014 World Cup, Donovan won't get to make runs against Belize and Cuba anymore. But he showed the pace, creativity, passing and energy necessary to make a positive impact against most any country in the world.
It could be argued that Donovan is no longer the face of American soccer. But after the last two weeks, it's clear that he will still be a very crucial part of the team during his fourth World Cup.
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