The Landon Donovan question

Posted by Jason Davis

The question most asked in the wake of the USMNT's dreary 2-1 loss in Honduras Wednesday in the first match of their Hex World Cup qualifying campaign involved none of the players who strolled their way to defeat on the shag carpet of the Estadio Olimpico. It was a simple question, borne of the stunning American lack of creativity.

Where's Landon Donovan?

It's not really surprising fans and observers alike are wondering about the status of America's best-ever player, particularly in light of the performance in San Pedro Sula. Donovan's influence, though not always appreciated, looms large for a team that needed an inch-perfect pass from an otherwise-disastrous Jermaine Jones - and an excellent finish from Clint Dempsey once the ball arrived - to score the lone U.S. goal.

But it wasn't the goal, or the lack of others, that has me wondering about Donovan. Though he would surely help in that area, it would be wrong to say this particular U.S. team lacks the players to create chances on a reasonable scale. Landon Donovan isn't responsible for Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup choices.

No, the most glaring issue evident in Wednesday's loss was much more troubling than anything that might be fixed by a reshuffling of players, and it’s one with which Donovan’s would surely helped: a shocking lack of effort. A missing drive. An absent intensity. Pick one, they all fit.

This is not a criticism of Tim Howard, captain for the game, or Michael Bradley, the human midfield metronome most often identified as the team’s future leader. Neither of those players, be it because of their position (Howard) or their relative youth (Bradley) have the aura of Donovan.

Without speculating too much about the internal psychology of the squad, is it possible that Donovan’s presence might have made a difference in something as simple as how hard the Americans played? We're in the murky world of intangibles here, but considering Donovan's prominence in the team over the course of the last decade, and his de-facto position as leader (despite rarely wearing the captain's armband) it's a thought worth having.

Where are you, Landon? What did you think when you watched that game Wednesday, and what are you thinking as the result festers? Do you wonder if your being on the field might have helped pushed the U.S. to do a better job closing down Honduras, opening up passing space, contesting 50/50 balls? Do you think to yourself that if you had played, the Americans win?

I hope so. Because even if it isn't true, those thoughts will inevitably lead to your return to the team sooner, rather than later.

Even if we pretend that Landon Donovan isn't the emotional sleigh-driver of the team, Klinsmann could do with a midfielder who knows when to stay wide, knows when to cut in, can pick a pass or two, and still has the legs to cover ground on both the offensive and defensive sides.

Whatever regression Landon Donovan has suffered in his game at he crossed over the threshold into his 30s, he's still better than anything the Americans could muster in his place.

If there’s a positive to be had from the USMNT loss, let it be that it stoked the competitive fires of the best American player ever at a time when they were most in need of it.

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