Was Landon Donovan's Benching a Message to United States Star?
By all accounts, the first half of the United States' final home match of the Hex against Jamaica in Kansas City on Friday night was just plain awful.
Because of the wretched first-half form of the Yanks, the biggest star in the starting lineup that night, Landon Donovan, was taken off by manager Jurgen Klinsmann at halftime for Graham Zusi.
Instantly, a number of questions began to swirl around the situation given the rocky history between Donovan and Klinsmann ever since the midfielder's self-imposed soccer sabbatical to Cambodia during the Major League Soccer offseason.
Klinsmann has made Donovan earn his spot in the starting 11 ever since, and up until Friday, the Los Angeles Galaxy playmaker had stepped up and delivered quality performance after quality performance.
Donovan was forced to earn his spot in the first team back by playing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer, and he passed that test with flying colors.
After his rampant run through the Gold Cup, Donovan was placed back in the spot where mostly everyone believes he belongs, the starting 11 of an important World Cup qualifying match.
However, Friday's match was a setback for one of the most scrutinized figures to ever put on an American soccer jersey.
Donovan, who was removed from the squad ahead of Tuesday's clash with Panama at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, was replaced by the player who most believe is in direct competition for a starting spot with the wily veteran.
Zusi has had the best 18 months of his career at the club level with Sporting Kansas City and at the international level with the Yanks.
It was Donovan who denied Zusi of a starting spot on Friday in where both players needed to have a good showing to impress the German manager in the team's build-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Zusi's performance in front of his home fans at Sporting Park was the polar opposite of the one turned in by Donovan as he was a dominant force in attack for most of the second half.
The 27-year-old Zusi was rewarded for his efforts with a goal in the 77th minute that sent one of the best soccer stadiums in America into a frenzy.
Zusi will get another chance to prove his worth to Klinsmann without Donovan in the squad on Tuesday night in a match that can not be deemed irrelevant from the American perspective, despite the team having already clinched a World Cup berth and first place in the Hex.
Klinsmann will get a chance to examine every minute detail of his squad over the next nine months, and Donovan's benching is a clear sign to every player who dons a United States shirt that no one will receive special treatment based on what they have done in the past.
Benching Donovan at halftime of the Jamaica match was a perfect wake-up call delivered by Klinsmann to his star player.
The benching came in a match where the entire team was underperforming, and despite not wearing the captain's armband, Donovan was one of the leaders out on the pitch that night.
By showing that he is not afraid to bench one of his superstars, Klinsmann also sent a message to the entire team that no one player is bigger than the team.
The benching should not be a blow to the confidence of Donovan, who has been in excellent form in the past six months.
As we have seen from the last time that Klinsmann delivered a message to Donovan, the 31-year-old is not afraid to go out on the pitch and prove his manager wrong time after time.
While we may never see Klinsmann and Donovan become best friends, we will look back on this moment and realize how much of a motivator the former Germany manager can be as he will undoubtedly get even more out of Donovan the next time he plays for the United States.
Do you think Landon Donovan's benching was a wake-up call of sorts?
Leave me a comment below or drop me a comment on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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