U.S. soccer missing enigmatic Landon Donovan

Mar 22 2013 - 3:10pm

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SAN FRANCISCO -- This is a crucial week for U.S. men's soccer. And a hell of a time to wonder where its key veteran is.

The national team has two World Cup qualifiers: against Costa Rica in Denver on Friday and in Mexico at their own personal hellhole, Azteca Stadium, on Tuesday.

The U.S. sits at the bottom of its group with zero points and is depleted by injuries. Seven players are out, notably goalkeeper Tim Howard with broken bones in his back and right back Steve Cherundolo, recovering from knee surgery.

Also missing: Landon Donovan. Not injured. On a personal walkabout away from soccer. By coach Jurgen Klinsmann's tone when I asked about Donovan this week, I wonder if the "face of American soccer" will ever play for his country again.

"The door is always open, but I will make decisions based on what I think is best for this team going forward," Klinsmann said. "Right now, he's not part of the plans because he is simply not playing or training."

Asked if he might appeal to Donovan to get off his couch for the sake of country, Klinsmann said, "No."

Donovan has always been a different athlete. Introspective to a fault, unwilling to sacrifice the comforts of home for his development, he was content to be the face of U.S. soccer, both well paid and well publicized. He's no longer the best player -- that honor belongs to Clint Dempsey. But since he was 20, Donovan has been the most important.

Now 31, he could make a run at one more World Cup and lend his experience to a young team, imparting the kind of veteran leadership the U.S. didn't have a generation ago.

Rumors that Klinsmann is exasperated with Donovan's enigmatic behavior appear valid. Klinsmann played for German national teams for 18 years and in his last World Cup at age 34. How can he relate to Donovan's agnostic approach to his country?

Before leaving for a sightseeing trip to Cambodia recently, Donovan told students that he's about more than soccer. Maybe. But like many athletes, he may not realize the opportunity he has until it's gone.

 

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