Preparing for his fourth World Cup, Landon Donovan is ready to take up any role that the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) needs. The 32-year old star player is expecting to make his fourth World Cup roster when the team heads to training camp in Northern California in May.
Twelve years ago Donovan joined his first World Cup team for the USA as an up and coming prospect. Over the next couple World Cup’s the midfielder had turned into the star of the team. Two years ago while playing with the MLS LA Galaxy, it appeared that Donovan was ready to retire.
Donovan took some time away from the game which renewed his drive and desire to play. After returning to the Galaxy, Donovan was playing with a new-found energy. The question was floating around if the midfielder could still be competitive on the international level.
In the summer of 2013 Landon Donovan showed any doubters that he was ready to continue his role with the USMNT as they prepared for the World Cup. During the summer the United States hosted the Gold Cup tournament and Donovan was tied with two other players to lead the scoring in the tournament with five goals. Donovan helped lead the USMNT to the tournament championship and showed the world that the midfielder is still a threat in international play.
Since the Gold Cup, Donovan has struggled some. Leading up to the international friendly on April 2 of this year, the 32-year old was not looking as sharp during training. This lead USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to make the decision to sit Donovan. Sitting the midfielder brought up speculation that there was a rift between Klinsmann and Donovan.
There is a history between the coach and Donovan. For a short time, Klinsmann coached Donovan while he played for Bayern Munich five years ago. After Donovan had taken time off after the 2012 MLS season, Klinsmann surprised people by not selecting Donovan for some early World Cup qualifiers.
While this might have discourage a younger Donovan, the older midfielder understands the game much better now and realizes that when he is not playing at his best someone else may take his spot in the starting line up. As long has he can still bring something to the team, Donovan has no issues with any decision that Klinsmann makes. With teammates like Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley taking up more of a leadership role on the team, Donovan will be able to share responsibilities that previously had fallen on just him.
The experience that Donovan brings to the USMNT will be important as the tournament starts. Whether he is in the starting line up or not, the team will be facing big challenges early in the tournament. Donovan will be focused on helping the team survive group play. With early games against Germany and Portugal, who are ranked just bellow Spain by FIFA as the best teams in the world, and a game against the 38th ranked Ghana, it will be a tough road for the US squad to begin the tournament with. Drawing what the world is calling the Group of Death, it will take all that Donovan and the USMNT can bring to move out of group play.
While Landon Donovan may not have a starting role for every game at the World Cup, the midfielder is ready. However Klinsmann wants to utilize him, Donovan wants to exceed everyone’s expectations. While this will be the last World Cup for the midfielder as a player, finishing with a strong performance is important to Donovan.
Commentary by Carl Auer