The final round of Concacaf qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil began tonight, and the most interesting score was this one:
Never before had the U.S. lost its opening match in the “hexagonal” (six-team) format for choosing World Cup teams — which was instituted ahead of the 1998 World Cup. Ten games, and the U.S. has zero points after one.
And it was no coincidence that it came with Landon Donovan not on the field.
Landon is still on his mind-clearing sabbatical, and he may not be ready to come back, but I also get a sense that Jurgen Klinsmann, the German who coaches the U.S. national team, has not gone to any particular lengths to make the greatest scorer in U.S. history feel valuable or wanted.
Klinsmann may want to believe he still is in Germany, where even elite players can be replaced by someone else 99 percent as good as the missing man.
That is not the case in the U.S., however, where quality goes about 1-2 players deep at most of the attacking positions. As could be seen in the game in Honduras.
I grasp that this is a moment of transition for the U.S. team. As I said to a colleague last week, the Guys Who Really Matter in U.S. soccer have hardly changed for a decade. Landon, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra … all of them 30 plus, or getting close.
Wanting to replace them with young guys … great idea. Except that the U.S. doesn’t seem to have young guys capable of adequately replacing the Guys Who Really Matter. Klinsmann probably ought to ride the veterans one more time. This team seems unsettled, and with the coach conducting experiments all over the pitch in a World Cup qualifier … not a good idea.
I would think that Jurgen Klinsmann, if he is as bright as I believe he is, will make a bit more effort now to come to a meeting of the minds with Landon Donovan, who has scored more meaningful goals than anyone in his country’s history.
Brazil 2014 may well be Landon’s last World Cup. Unless Klinsmann and the U.S. Soccer Federation make a hash of this and fail to qualify. It would take some doing to miss out; the top three sides in the six-team group go directly to Brazil 2014, and the fourth-place side get a home-and-road playoff with, probably, New Zealand for another berth in the big show.
The Yanks return to the field on March 22, home against Costa Rica. Landon Donovan needs to be on that field.