Opinion

Shoving the bald eagle out of the nest

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Sometimes in life, Mama Bird has to shove you out of the nest. It’s Darwinian logic, survival of the fittest, but that’s how life can go. You either spread your wings and soar with the others, or become dinner.

Landon Donovan’s exclusion from the 23-man US Men’s National Team roster has created quite the stir. If you follow me on Twitter (@earlwreed), you saw me rant for a couple of days about it.

While I’m not sure it’s the wisest of moves, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is kicking the Bald Eagle out of the nest. Whether we like it or not.

Passing the torch

It’s tough to not think of Landon Donovan as the leader of the USMNT. Armband aside, the guy has always seemed to be there when the chips were down. The goal to get one back against just after the half against Slovenia, leading the counter and then being Johnny-on-the-Spot to secure the Knockout Stages in stoppage time versus Algeria — and that was just in South Africa in 2010.

Eight years before that, Donovan made his World Cup Debut for the US at the age of 20. He won the award for Best Young Player that year, setting him on the course that has firmly planted him as the dominant American of his time and maybe all-time.

Looking at Donovan retrospectively is fun, but looking ahead appears to be a short road. The US needs its next leader. Not necessarily the next 20-year-old phenom, but maybe the next guy who will turn up on the edge of the 6 to deposit a rebound.

Klinsmann needs the next mantle carrier for the USMNT. He’s probably not going to find him with Donovan out there. Players can have a tendency to defer to a player of Donovan’s stature. It’s time for others to bear the weight which often falls onto one man’s shoulders.

Tough test of resiliency and moxy

Klinsmann has an excellent opportunity to test the mettle of his team. You can’t get a much tougher group for the US than Germany, Portugal and perpetual bogeyman Ghana. This is going to be a character test for the 23 players chosen by Klinsmann, but it’s also one that isn’t laden with pressure. If they escape Group G, the Americans will be applauded for the feat.

Who will step up and lead this team to that glory? Klinsmann is all but begging one of these other players to become “the guy.” Is it Bradley? Dempsey? Altidore, Bedoya, or Zusi? Perhaps it’s Mix Diskerud.

Last night against Azerbaijan Diskerud became immediately influential in a substitute appearance. He bagged the go-ahead goal, and immediately asserted his claim to be the first midfielder off the bench — if not a starter.

Or is this about Bradley?

In a recent edition of the Feuerstein’s Fire podcast I was involved in, World Soccer Talk’s Kartik Krishnaiyer made a good point: This may all be about Michael Bradley.

Last night, the US mirrored the 4-4-2 diamond shape that was deployed in the April friendly against Mexico. Again, Bradley played at the attacking point of the diamond. In previous iterations, one would envision Donovan as being the guy in that position.

Krishnaiyer theorized that Donovan’s omission affords Bradley the time to become acclimated to that advanced role, without the pressure of having Donovan nipping at Bradley’s heels.

Most consider Bradley a consummate deeper-lying midfielder, but at Roma, renowned tactician Zdenik Zeman often asked him to drive the play as more of an attacking midfielder, pressing defensively and propelling the play forward. Thus it’s feasible to station Bradley somewhere between a CAM and a box-to-box midfielder, with Clint Dempsey dropping as a deep forward to help link play (though last night was a bit shaky for Bradley).

Concluding, Klinsmann clearly thought that Donovan was unnecessary for meeting the team’s objectives in Brazil. The primary goal could be anything from preparing players for the next cycle, to actually escaping this demanding group and showing the world that the US is more than just Landon Donovan. If it’s the latter, Klinsmann’s decision means other players will need to step up to the challenge. If that actually happens, the German great could quickly reestablish the credibility he lost during his stint at Bayern Munich.

14 Comments

  1. Great One says:

    Let’s all hope so.

  2. “Most consider Bradley a consummate deeper-lying midfielder, but at Roma, renowned tactician Zdenik Zeman often asked him to drive the play as more of an attacking midfielder, pressing defensively and propelling the play forward. ”

    Granted my only source on this is a random post on by a Roma fan a long time ago and I don’t even know where, but apparently Bradley wasn’t very good at this. He wasn’t creative or dangerous enough in an advanced position.

    And the fact he was squeezed out at Roma sorta lends credence to that.

  3. Earl, I have serious issues with the comment that JK needs to “re-establish his credibility”. Forget the ’06 World Cup (and 3rd place, and setting that program for the future), he was still undefeated for a year as US coach. He’s the first US coach to win at the Azteca. Just being one of the 50 greatest players of all time and a WC winner means he never has to worry about a coaching job or his credibility. They’d take him in a second at Tottenham, which is why he has a long contract now.

    • Earl Reed says:

      Perhaps you’re right. I think Jogi Low has usurped much of the credit Klinsmann initially got for the 2006 turnaround. “Undefeated for a year” is not accurate – he did coach the team to 12 consecutive victories. The Azteca win is notable, though one could consider it at the beginning of Mexico’s downslide.

      Also, you lost me at the Tottenham and Bayern Munich jobs being even close to equitable in stature. Call me when Klinsmann is drawing interest from Barcelona or Manchester United.

      • I could see him getting a job at one of the big 6 in the future. His problem with that is he loves California too much (weirdo)! So Tottenhan is elite 30 in Europe. Couldn’t you see him turning them into an Atletico Madrid? I can.

      • Earl Reed says:

        Perhaps he could. Doing that would certainly restore his credibility. The tough part is actually doing it.

        Leaving Landon out probably lowers the bar further for Brazil. And one way to consider it…if he gets out of the Group Stage with this squad, he’ll get plenty of plaudits for that. With Donovan, it’s still a feat, but not as big of one (especially if Donovan were to be instrumental in that result).

        His coaching tenure started well with the US, but I could see it taking a poor turn. For instance, if the US fails to win the Gold Cup next year, maybe he looks to get out. And maybe Spurs would offer a way out. Though Pochettino appears to be a solid hire.

      • Spurs and Bayern Munich jobs aren’t even close to the stature of coaching the USMNT? Seriously? C’mon man, appreciate the patriotism but that’s just so completely false it’s comical.

      • Earl Reed says:

        You are misreading me. I’m saying that simple interest from Spurs wouldn’t equal the stature he had when he joined Bayern Munich. The USMNT job is well lower in stature than either of those two.

        It always causes me to chuckle when the MLS media starts tossing around Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley as potential candidates at big clubs.

    • Given Jurgen’s coaching track record is so short and frankly after you peel the onion relatively poor (ignoring the tenure at U.S.). Isn’t getting out of the group a must for him. Ignoring results against weak opposition over last year (Mexico being so poor) we have: the SI report of team dissension, influx of German players (perception in U.S.), the Donovan decision, his son’s tweet, his pushing aside of his long time assistant a month ago. It’s like watching a train wreck – where he has alienated likely more than 50% of the very fans he needs going forward. I believe no major club would take given his experience so is this really down to now or never?

  4. George H says:

    Kartik’s premise is a bit of a stretch. Donovan has never really played that central attacking midfielder role in his career. Mostly because he doesn’t have the right skill set for it. He’s either been at forward or in the midfield on the right or left where he can get some space and use his pace.

    Donovan isn’t on the squad because Klinsmann doesn’t have to worry about his job security with that contract extension. If that wasn’t the case, Donovan would have likely made the squad.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Your (George H) second paragraph is the most succinct way of putting it. Well said. If JK’s 2018 job was on the line, no way he rocks the boat like that and drops Donovan.

  5. Just looking at the game last night, it seems JK wants to play a high-pressing D, and tight mids that can pull inside and outside. Donovan was always best on the right flank, but he can’t play there at this point in his career. He’s best as a withdrawn FWD, but that’s Deuce’s spot (who also can’t play in the MF). So was LD vs. Dempsey and Dempsey’s been scoring and LD has not (games against the U don’t count).
    Face it: His role was gonna be as a super sub when we need a goal. I would have been OK with that. But obviously Klinsman would rather roll with players who have been scoring for that role (Johansonn, Wondo)

    Half of me is excited cuz I can’t stand him. And who knows, maybe he just moped around the locker room the whole time. I’d be more confident if he was there, but I’m over it.

    • SilverRey says:

      Left half.

      Leave Zusi on the right, Dempsey stays, problem solved. Nobody but Davis should argue that LD shouldn’t be there.

      • He can’t defend the flanks anymore, so he’s a liability.
        Is Davis any better? I don’t think so, but he never took a leave of absence…In the end, it’s personal. Obviously. It just might not be that big of deal now.

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