2010 World Cup Previews and Prediction: As Landon Donovan Goes, So Goes Team USA
I'm not sold on this USA soccer team.
Yes, they qualified for the 2010 World Cup a quite respectable sixth straight time.
They performed brilliantly in the Confederation's Cup last summer and made it to the title game against Brazil. Along the way, they defeated Spain, the number one ranked team in the world at the time.
If you watched the US-Turkey game on Saturday, one thing quickly became evident.
This is Landon Donovan's team.
It will go as far as he takes it. If he washes out, they'll make a quick exit. If he performs at a high level, the team could make some waves.
It should be quite obvious to even the most casual observer that Donovan is head and shoulder's above the rest of team USA.
The first goal against Turkey was a loud pronouncements of just how much the US team will rely upon Donovan.
Robbie Findley chipped a ball over the defense that provided a one on one match-up between Donovan and his defender. Zipping past the defense-man, Donovan toed the ball just as the keeper came out, causing the goalie to miss the ball by inches. With deft control and patience, Donovan then casually made a perfect pass between two defenders to an oncoming Jose Altidore for a gimme goal.
It was sheer brilliance. The type of play that one expects from a Robben, Fabregas, Gerrard, or Alonso.
He made it look easy, but it was an all-world play. Something that not one other player on Team USA could have made because it took pace, control, and vision.
The next goal, not as special, was a cross to Clint Dempsey that, still, few other Team USA players could have made. It set-up Dempsey within the penalty area and allowed him to chip in a goal.
Without Donovan, it's entirely possible that the USA loses 1-0.
Donovan's passes and runs are at a higher level. He seems to have that special ability to see plays before they happen. He understands defenses and where the space will be and when, and where, to make runs.
For years, Donovan has been a exercise in frustration for USA fans. Since the 2002 World Cup, he was anointed the future of USA soccer, and time and time again he has disappointed.
The 2006 World Cup team had high expectations, and washed out in the first round.
There are the many public failings at Bayern before finally catching on with Everton.
There is the very, very embarassing experiment of playing with David Beckham at the LA Galaxy, and watching that team never come close to fulfilling expectations until last year.
In fact, it was playing in the MLS that seemed to be Donovan's biggest failing. Why would a player that could be playing at the highest level in Europe keep playing at a second tier league?
Yet, over the last 12 months, Donovan seems to have matured before our eyes. He's no longer the spoiled southern California kid who didn't want to play in Germany because of the cold weather and leaving his dogs at home. He seems more mature and focused.
Team USA has a serviceable team. Clint Dempsey is a very good player in the EPL and might have scored the 'Goal of the Year' at Fulham. Jose Altidore is the insanely gifted forward that is young and prone to pouting and slacking off on plays. Michael Bradley is the blue-collar mid-fielder that is lacking in talent but makes up for it with an engine that won't stop.
Then there's the athleticism of a Robbie Findley and DeMarcus Beasley. Two figures who could present problems for other teams with their pace and stamina.
But it will be Donovan who needs to takes all these working parts and puts them in order. He'll need to be the Field General directing traffic and putting players in the proper paces.
Like a world class chef, it will be up to him to take these raw ingredients and create something spectacular.
The first test is England. Normally, that might scare most USA fans, but England certainly has problems of their own. There perhaps isn't another team on the globe who has so consistently failed to meet their own lofty over the past five years.
The Golden Generation of Beckham, Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, and Ferdinand is coming to an end. They haven't won a thing and this will most likely be their last hurrah together (Beckham is excluded).
If Team USA can get past England, it will be a monstrous start to their World Cup chances. But, it will take the stern nerves and leadership of Donovan to calm this team down and get them to play up to their potential.
Otherwide, it could be a very short trip to Africa for the Yanks.
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