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ASN Weekly Debate

The Future of Landon Donovan: A Brief Discussion

The United States' most visible player is "50-50" to play in the 2014 World Cup. ASN deputy editor Noah Davis and contributing editor Ryan O'Hanlon wonder where we go from here.
BY Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon Posted
October 26, 2012
8:28 AM
Noah Davis: On Tuesday, Landon Donovan once again brought the soccer community to a standstill. But it wasn't with his play. It was with his words, specifically that he's "50-50" to play in the 2014 World Cup. Initial thoughts, Ryan?

Ryan O'Hanlon: The American Soccer Internet—which is a pretty big Internet—melted down. I think I was on my way to work when it happened? I'm not sure because I didn't really put too much into it. One: dude's been playing soccer for, what, three straight years? So he's tired. And two: If he actually does retire, I don't think it'll accelerate the Apocalypse or anything.

Davis: There was one telling quote that I thought people glossed over: "I may get worn down by it all, but LeBron James and Kobe don't have to promote their sport like we do, and it is exhausting." That's an interesting comment in that it a) sounds like a guy who is mentally not physically exhausted, which is something that's not going to go away by not going to the EPL this winter and b) I'm not sure it's true. Is it "harder" to be Landon Donovan than LeBron James? Knowing nothing about being either, my gut says James has more demands on his time, but perhaps those are things he wants to do more?

O'Hanlon: It's interesting, to me, because it's that thought you always have in the back of your head. Donovan and co. are making careers as very good professional soccer players, but they're also American, so there's this extra burden we all, semi-selfishly, hope they're willing to carry. It's cool to see him acknowledge that. But, at the same time, it's probably not any more exhausting than LeBron and Kobe Bryant constantly promoting themselves and just generally being worldwide-famous human beings. Sport- and self-promotion would seem to be equally taxing, although sport-promotion hopefully less soul-sucking.

Davis: Maybe it's a matter of perspective. I very much doubt that Donovan grew up wanting to be, or expecting in his wildest dreams that he would be, world-famous. LBJ, Kobe, and the rest of the superfamous NBA ballers probably did.

But okay, enough about randomly guessing at LD's pysche. How would his retirement, say after qualifying for the World Cup but well before the tournament starts (Jan 2014 or some such), affect the team? And yes, I realized we have moved from one hypothetical to another.

O'Hanlon: Everything on the Internet is hypothetical. The Internet itself is a hypothetical medium, so it can't channel anything based in reality. I'm pretty sure, at least.

Anyway, it's sort of difficult to say because he's been such a fringe figure in the USMNT setup since Klinsmann took over. And a lot of things can change in a year once you pass a certain point. We haven't really seen the guy tested against more-than-MLS-level competition since last winter.

Davis: See also: Poor offensive performances since Klinsmann took over. I'm not saying LD's absence is the cause, but... it should be noted.

O'Hanlon: That is true, but I'd still lean toward saying "NBD" if Donovan retired. One of the things so great about Donovan was his consistency. As you wrote on Run of Play, he had this crazy ability to stay healthy and turn collisions into glancing blows. Without that, his value to the team takes a big, straight-on hit, doesn't it?

Davis: Considering I just turned 30 last week, I hope it's not the end of the world. But I do think Donovan has always been an underrated creator, partially because he's so good at scoring goals. He's the best passer in the U.S. player pool. Still, you're right though, in that his value goes down significantly if he can't avoid those hits.

O'Hanlon: And maybe it's also a bit of that what-have-you-done-for-me-lately bias, and it's making me forget how good the guy actually is, but at the same time, some people have stepped up in his absence. And there are a few more—Hi, Josh Gatt—we're expecting to play an ever-growing role in the squad, too.

So, I guess it's two things: the possible/perceived decline of Donovan's abilities—at least the decline of his ability to stay healthy—and the growth of some younger (and some older) attacking players that doesn't have the thought of Donovan missing 2014 making me want to stick my head in a snake hole—like I definitely would've in 2010.

Davis: It doesn't. Which is a good thing. I still think he's there, though.

O'Hanlon: So do I. And I hope he is. I'll be sad if he's not—just not too disappointed.

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