Ever since Landon Donovan was cut from the United States' preliminary 30-man roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there has been discussion about how the team will fare without him.
Donovan has played in 12 games over three World Cups and scored five goals during that span, but those statistics and his recent club form were not good enough for him to make the final 23-man roster.
Now that the 23 players selected by Jurgen Klinsmann are in Brazil for their final World Cup preparations, there is no doubt that the black cloud known as Donovan will hang over them if they fail in Group G.
Failing in Brazil will bring up the Donovan debate for years to come, but if the Yanks get out of their treacherous group, the name of the LA Galaxy forward will be brought up less.
Since the United States has won its final three games on home soil leading up to the World Cup, Donovan's name has been mentioned less, but he still lurks in the distance as a topic of conversation, which could end up being a downfall for the American team.
The players on the roster seems to be concentrated solely on the task at hand in Brazil, but they will also be aware of the criticism if they fail to produce a result in the first game against Ghana.
The Donovan debate will pop back into the minds of the American soccer-viewing public even more if the group of forwards selected over him do not score in Brazil.
Some of those worries went away Saturday when Jozy Altidore broke out of his slump in a major way with two goals against Nigeria in Jacksonville.
Easing the pressure as well has been the play of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who are the two best players the Americans will trot out in Natal, Manaus and Recife.
Bradley has been terrific in an advanced role in the midfield, while Dempsey has proven to be an efficient partner to Altidore up front.
While the play of the three key attackers has been fine of late, the wingers's performance has been good and bad at times.
If the collective of Graham Zusi, Brad Davis and Alejandro Bedoya fails to spark the American attack in Brazil, many folks will wonder if Donovan could have been used out wide in one of those positions to provide a steady hand against three tough defenses.
Regardless of what Klinsmann, Donovan or anyone else says about his position on the team, the true place on the pitch where the 32-year-old is needed at the international level is on the wing.
You can criticize the play of Altidore and Dempsey all you want, but Donovan was never going to play as a straight-up forward had he made the trip to Brazil.
Locking Donovan in a position up front would have been the tactical kiss of death by Klinsmann, which is why comparing him to the wingers is a more reasonable approach.
The other way Donovan's shadow could loom large on the Yanks in Brazil is if Julian Green does absolutely nothing in his first World Cup.
If Green doesn't even play a minute in the group stage, Klinsmann will hear the criticism that he should have brought a player who was ready for Brazil now instead of taking a young wonderkid who would make no impact from the start.
The one player people will instantly claim should have been on the roster instead of Green is Donovan, whose distribution skills could be seen as better than his knack for scoring goals.
However, if the United States succeeds by placing in the top two of the group stage and puts up a respectable showing in the knockout phase, most will forget about the exclusion of Donovan.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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