Longtime United States national team star Landon Donovan has agreed on terms with ESPN to serve as an analyst for the 2014 World Cup after U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann left him off the 23-man roster.
Bill Hofheimer of ESPN notes Donovan will appear across the ESPN spectrum of networks and shows, starting with Wednesday's tournament preview show. He's going to work from the outlet's Los Angeles studios for all assignments, including United States matches.
The announcement featured comments from ESPN senior vice president and executive producer Jed Drake, who highlighted the benefits of adding the star forward to the World Cup coverage:
Adding Landon to our ESPN roster just before the World Cup is a coup because he knows the United States team better than anyone having played such a huge role in its success, especially at this event. Landon is also one of this country's biggest sports stars and we believe that he will help attract even more fans to our month-long coverage.
"I am excited to be joining ESPN’s coverage of the 2014 World Cup from Los Angeles, and I look forward to working with the talented ESPN broadcasters to provide unique insights for our amazing US Soccer fans," Donovan said in the release.
Depending on where you stand on Donovan, his exclusion from the final roster was either a major snub or an overdue sign the team is moving forward. His success with the national team is clear, but he hasn't been in top form over the past few years at either club or international level.
Donovan is Team USA's all-time leading goal scorer with 57, has the second-most caps (156) in team history and appeared in the last three World Cups.
The timing of the announcement doesn't come as a surprise. Klinsmann said after announcing the final roster that Donovan could still receive a call if the Americans suffered injuries during the warm-up matches, but the squad came through the three friendlies healthy.
So the team's all-time leading scorer will instead watch from stateside and provide his analysis as the United States try to survive the so-called "Group of Death" with Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
James Tyler of ESPNFC applauded the decision:
Credit to Landon Donovan, weirdly, for standing up to the obvious and confronting it head-on for TV/analysis purposes.— James Tyler (@JamesTylerESPN) June 11, 2014
The question now becomes how effectively Donovan can fill the role. He has always been willing to speak his mind, but will he be hesitant to criticize players he has spent a lot of time with while helping grow U.S. Soccer over the years?
Do you think Donovan will succeed as an analyst?
Furthermore, he never seemed to see eye to eye with Klinsmann once the German-born manager took over the side and put all places on the squad up for grabs. Can Donovan be fair to him after an obvious disagreement about what the veteran could provide in Brazil?
Only time will tell.
The other factor is the Los Angeles Galaxy, Donovan's club side. They have a Cup match and three MLS fixtures between now and the end of the World Cup. So he'll have to work around training and those games for his ESPN work.
All told, it's a very strong addition for ESPN, which can now add a unique perspective that former players who didn't operate under Klinsmann couldn't provide. And Donovan also knows what it takes to succeed at the World Cup level, so his insight should be invaluable.
While Donovan would rather be training with his teammates in Brazil, he should make a smooth transition and bring some substance to the telecasts.