I got a sneaking feeling that Klinsmann is going to drop Landon. In the words of Homer Simpson, “you know, just to shake things up a bit.” The US had one of its most awesomely successful years ever last year (figure we’d do it in an odd-numbered year), and Landon was only tangentially involved. To say not everyone understood the motivation behind his sabbatical last year is an understatement, and I think Donovan is on thinner ice than a lot of people might suspect.
That was me, back in January, and if I had only had the courage to stick with my gut I would be making this post from the medal podium of the I Told You So Hall of Fame.
But no. I decided I needed to gather evidence, and I decided to go back and look at every single damn Hexagonal to see what I could learn.
The answer, obviously, was nothing. I allowed myself to get talked back into the conventional wisdom. Landon plays too many positions too well, he's a proven commodity in the World Cup, he's rested, there's no obvious candidate to replace him, Donovan can still come off the bench and change the game if need be...that was more than enough, I thought, to balance out Klinsmann's many hints.
Well, I thought Jozy would do really well for di Canio, too. This isn't about my non-existent analytical skills. I could have, unjustifiably, coasted for YEARS on this. No one would have cared if I said Landon wouldn't make the roster and he did. I didn't have any money on who would make the roster. It was Contrarian Blogger 101 stuff that I thought I was too good for. Now look at me. I'm wearing a cardboard belt.
Klinsmann could have kept Landon on the team and still generated controversy. What did Brad Evans do wrong? If Besler, Cameron and Gonzalez's zero World Cup experience SOMEHOW doesn't pan out, is Brooks a better choice than Goodson? You don't pack as many forwards as possible in the suitcase? I'm glad Yedlin, Green and Brooks are getting experience for 2018...assuming they pan out...assuming we don't get crushed 1998-style and all their careers, including Klinsmann's, come to a halt...assuming we should be comparing these guys to Pele, Maradona and Romario to begin with, let alone trying to replicate their career path...assuming any World Cup roster since 1990 (and maybe not even then) should have been set up with an eye to the next one....
And so forth. But it's Landon Goneovan who we'll be reading about until we get out of the group, or the sun goes red giant, whichever comes first.
Here's the thing that we haven't grasped, though. Dropping Donovan doesn't change anything. Landon really wasn't part of Klinsmann's core team - the numbers backed that up, at least - and he hasn't dropped anyone that played as much for him as Cherundolo or Ralston did for Arena. Yes, I'm still trying to justify that last post when I should be trying to scrub all trace of it from the Internet. But there was information that someone competent could have gleaned from it, even if I couldn't. And that was some neat Frankie Hejduk trivia, right?
But this team's fate was always going to depend on factors beyond Donovan, and that hasn't been the case since they started printing calendars without 19 in the front. This team is about how well Michael Bradley can control the midfield, whether Tim Howard can duplicate Brad Friedel's 2002 form, whether Spurs were right about Clint Dempsey, and whether Sunderland was right about Jozy Altidore. If those four players play well, then Klinsmann was right, and the US doesn't need Donovan. And if Donovan was brought in and played well, but those four don't? Three and out.
Donovan wouldn't have cured any of the team's real needs. The defense is four question marks, no matter who you pick from the talent pool. Remember how I said Clarence Goodson would have been nice to have around if things went south? He didn't see the field in 2010, either. You know what the difference between Roy Lassiter in 1998, Taylor Twellman in 2006, Brian Ching in 2010, and Chris Wondolowski in 2014 is? Timing. I hope Wondo becomes this decade's Jimmy Conrad, or better still this decade's Toto Schillachi, but that also puts us firmly in the territory of "Don't believe in miracles - rely on them."
Fine, I'm a guy who prefers pessimism to optimism, on the grounds that optimists are never pleasantly surprised. But since I'm not the first guy to bring up the prospect of 1998 happening all over again, let's remember that if it does happen, it won't be because of the absence or presence of just one player. Harkes could never have saved the 1998 team, and Donovan wouldn't have saved this one. They're just going to have to win without him.
This is where optimists can remind me that, for a good deal of 2013, they did win without him, a lot. That said, I will consider a win and third place, or even two reasonably-played draws and last place, to be a satisfactory performance. I've been saying (or at least thinking) that since the draw, though. Second round would be more than enough to justify Klinsmann's extension.
At least our fans who will be cheering on the team will be able to drown their sorrows in a Brazil party...oh, Brazilians aren't particularly into this World Cup? Oh well, Putin's Russia and Qatar should make up for it.