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Landon Donovan and a Potentially Awkward U.S. Farewell

August 26th, 2014 · No Comments · Brazil 2014, Football, Landon Donovan, soccer, World Cup

Two reactions, in quick succession, upon hearing today that Landon Donovan will play a farewell match with the U.S. national soccer team, in October.

1. It’s nice that they are giving him a chance to say goodbye.

2. Gosh, the whole thing could be awkward.

Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach, probably thought he was finished with Landon Donovan. At least, on a coach-player basis.

Klinsmann controversially left out the greatest scorer in U.S. history from the American team going to Brazil for the World Cup. Which seemed very personal, then as now.

The German coach never forgave Landon for taking his famous “break” from the game, late in 2012 and early in 2013. In Klinsmann’s world, no one takes a minute away from the game, not even after 15 years of going at it full-bore, as Landon had.

So, he left Landon off the World Cup team, a year later, which would have been the Galaxy forward’s fourth — and something he very much wanted.

Klinsmann paid a price for it, as Donovan fans criticized him heavily.

The criticism abated as the U.S. advanced from the group stage, then returned when Chris Wondolowski, one of the forwards Klinsmann took to Brazil instead of Landon, put a point-blank shot over the bar in the final minutes of normal time in what, eventually, became a 2-1 extra-time U.S. loss to Belgium in the round of 16.

Give Landon that chance, in front of goal, the ball at his feet, and he scores. We know it. Klinsmann knows it. And Klinsmann knows we know. Landon scores his 58th international goal, the U.S. wins 1-0 and reaches the quarterfinals.

Now, Landon is back.

This could not have been Klinsmann’s idea.

This has the fingerprints of Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, all over it. Perhaps with some input from media relations people in the federation.

Why will this be awkward?

–Klinsmann will have to fake not minding having Landon around. Landon will know he’s faking it. And try to act as if he doesn’t notice.

–Players will feel the tension between Klinsmann and Landon. And they will have to be very careful to avoid antagonizing Klinsmann, Der Kommissar. Anyone who is perceived to be a Landon Pal may pay a price in terms of his status with the U.S. Coach for Life.

–Which means Landon may be sitting in a locker room with 22 other guys who are trying not to be seen being overly friendly with him, which Landon will pick up on. Or, actually, already can predict.

–Ahead of the match, media will zero in on this Jurgen-Landon thing. “Is it awkward, coach/Landon? How would you describe your relationship? Does it seem strange?” Well, hell yes, it does.

Let’s try to parse from where this “last game” comes.

I think it has to be Gulati, Klinsmann’s biggest fan but also, it would seem, one of the millions who was stunned when suddenly Klinsmann announced his team days ahead of when he said he would (effectively doing an end run of Gulati and the U.S. federation), and Landon was not on it.

Gulati is applying a PR bandage, long after the injury was incurred, making clear that U.S. soccer is fine with Landon — and it damn well ought to be, considering everything he has done for soccer in the country.

So, an appearance against Ecuador, October 10, in East Hartford, Conn.

More ticklish questions.

Does Landon start? If he’s not good enough even to make the team to Brazil, one would think it would be hard to suggest he ought to be in the first XI against Ecuador. How does Klinsmann handle that one? Is he petty enough to start the game with Landon on the bench? I think he certainly is petty enough; the political pain, however, may push him to start his nemesis.

But … Landon has to come off before the match ends. He has to. No matter how horrific it sounds to Klinsmann — being party to that final moment of farewell.

Landon comes off in the 87th minute, or thereabouts, and he gets a standing ovation. For quite some time. The game is halted/delayed. The usually impassive (outwardly) Landon allows a tear or two to run down his face. His fans also are verklempt. This will be the only memorable moment of the match, barring some major weirdness.

And Klinsmann has to shake his hand, at the least. He probably ought to hug him, too, but the hypocrisy of that might be too enormous for him (and us) to bear.

Ach du lieber!

I am so looking forward to this. Even as I cringe at the thought of it.

In a way, this is Landon’s Revenge part 2. First, The Wondolowski Miss, now The Farewell Game, when the story is Landon Donovan, and not the coach who spurned him and hurt himself — and the team — in the process.


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