No sooner had Clint Dempsey dropped out of the starting lineup Tuesday night because of what was described as a sore groin than the flotilla of ESPN observers began speculating whether Donovan would be the first alternative in any roster switch.
Lord Landon does not go away. He scored two goals for the Galaxy on the weekend and was voted Player of the Week in Major League Soccer. That probably does not intimidate Jürgen Klinsmann, whose mind has been made up for weeks, maybe years.
However, as the expertise of the ESPN commentators shows, the issue will persist right into the World Cup.
Suppose, just suppose, that the USA (despite the gaggle of strangers and recruits on the back line) hangs on for a one-goal deficit in the 65th minute in the opener against Ghana.
Of all the Americans since the founding of this great nation, which adult male would you most like to insert into the lineup – George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? Jackie Robinson? I would say a living breathing Landon Donovan might be the national choice, if not Klinsmann’s.
So that raises the question: what is there about independent, quirky yet talented players that make coaches so squeamish?
Let us recall how Italian coaches used to recoil from pigtailed, Buddhist-convert introverted Roberto Baggio. The coaches preferred stalwarts who would do what the boss said rather than think on their feet at full tilt. Crazy. Of course, Arrigo Sacchi did not mind when Il Codino saved Italy’s pancetta in the 88th minute against Nigeria in 1994 – and did it again a few days later, same late minute, against Spain. But there was something a little too independent about Baggio that threatened coaches. (It’s called talent.)
American coaches have had their issues with goal-producer types. Hugo Perez, a scorer, didn’t make the flight to Italy in 1990. And that meteor named Steve Snow flamed out going into the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Labelled “a cocky little twirp” by his coach, Lothar Osiander, Snow grumped about his low status and was not in the lineup against Italy, and promptly went off to reporters after the match. Snow never played in a World Cup or Major League Soccer and currently runs a pizzeria in Indiana.
(Read the terrific article by Nick Firchau on MLS.com)
The saga of Steve Snow illustrates the point. Coaches are more comfortable with players who stay home, metaphorically. .
Donovan didn’t love winters in Germany, took a walkabout when he needed a break from his sport, and generally listened to his own inner radar. He also produced probably the most dramatic goal ever scored by the USA in the World Cup – the 91st-minute rally against Algeria in 2010.
From now until rosters are frozen, the name will surface every time a Yank suffers a twinge. Lord Landon Lives.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.