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2013 Gold Cup

Pre-Game Theater: Landon and Jurgen Back Together!

One day before the 2013 Gold Cup Final, the once-estranged Landon Donovan and Jurgen Klinsmann met the press, discussed the match, and gave a convincing performance that they are back on the same page.

BY John Godfrey Posted
July 28, 2013
12:42 PM
CHICAGO—U.S. Soccer pre-game press conferences are quirky little pieces of theater.

Everybody plays a role, whether they know it or not. The camera folk stand at the back, silent like attendant lords. The writers huddle down in the front, clutching devices and speaking sotto voce among themselves. Former players now working in some broadcast capacity typically line up against a wall—perhaps because they arrived late, or because it still feels strange for them to be on this side of the podium. Grant Wahl usually asks the first question because, well, 322,315 Twitter followers can't be wrong.

And sometimes, like yesterday, Gus Johnson brings a little kid to the press event because, hey, he has a booming voice and he used to call NBA games and who's going to tell him that he can't?

The press conference performance itself doesn't really get underway until we see some side door open up to reveal today's talent. Jurgen Klinsmann is almost always part of the cast, but you're never quite sure who will be joining him on stage for that day's show. (It's a bit like a touring production of The Vagina Monologues in that regard—with slightly different subject matter.)

Yesterday it could have been Klinsmann paired up with team captain DaMarcus Beasley. Or Klinsmann and Kyle Beckerman, who just played his two best games in a national team uniform. Or perhaps Nick Rimando, the sturdy goalkeeper who has been given a chance to shine, would get to take his turn in front of the press.

But nobody in the room could have been too surprised when Landon Donovan emerged alongside his coach and settled into his seat on the podium. Klinsmann has used this Gold Cup to demonstrate his absolute authority over the United States national team. Donovan, meanwhile, has used the tournament to demonstrate that his talent is still intact, and that he is still one of the best players in America.

Both men had to be feeling pretty good about themselves, and yet the press conference started with a dour tone as a result of Klinsmann's suspension from Sunday's final. The perennially happy Klinsmann looked sad. And the often-sad Donovan looked slightly sadder than usual.

After dispensing with the issue of Klinsmann's suspension—you can read about that topic here—the mood in the room changed perceptibly. Donovan talked about Klinsmann. Klinsmann talked about Donovan. And it became abundantly clear for all to see that coach and star had moved past whatever unpleasantness might have existed between them when Donovan elected to take a sabbatical from soccer on the eve of the final round of World Cup qualification.

"We are happy how things are going and I’m not just saying that because he is sitting next to him right now," Klnsmann said. "It was his choice to take some time off. It was his choice to get a little bit of distance. He knew that his way back into this group only goes through hard work. It goes through good performances. It goes through showing it on and off the field."

And, Klinsmann pointed out, Donovan had to do more than show that he is, say, better than Alejandro Bedoya or Mix Diskerud. He had to show that he was all the back and performing at peak efficiency.

"Because of what he has achieved in the past, his benchmark is higher than all of the others," Klinsmann said. "We had honest conversations about it and I said, ‘I want the best Landon ever.’ He took that challenge. He’s motivated."

"He’s ready to challenge on all levels."

Donovan, for his part, accepted his coach's praise and acknowledged he was playing a different role than he has in the past.

"To be here as the second-oldest player—I’ve vowed if I was ever the oldest player that I’d quit….so hopefully [Nick] Rimando stays around for a while—I’ve enjoyed helping the younger guys," he said. "I’ve enjoyed being a part of a team that doesn’t have ego. It’s been really fun to be a part of and I’ve enjoyed it a lot."

"I’ve enjoyed myself tremendously."

Beyond re-establishing his place in the United States soccer pecking order, Donovan earned points for his work with the younger players on the team.

"The Gold Cup is a wonderful opportunity for younger players to grow, to mature, to experience a certain element of the game on this level," Klinsmann said. "And therefore it was extremely important that we bring guys in like Joe Corona, Brek Shea, Sean Johnson, other ones, so through these games, one at a time, [they] experience it and grow and improve."

Donovan "has helped with the young guys," Klinsmann said.

As for the Gold Cup Final itself, both coach and player were asked how important it would be to end the tournament on a high note. The team was playing great, yes, but would a defeat to Panama leave a bitter taste in their mouths?

Their contrasting answers spoke volumes about both men.

Donovan: "As everybody knows, this game can sometimes be unfair, and all we can do is control what we can control. We’re going to play the way we’ve been playing. We’re going to come out with the same attitude, the same mentality, and play the way we’ve been playing—which I think has been enjoyable for all of us. At the end of the day, I don’t think we’re going to judge ourselves if it doesn’t go our way. I think we’re all proud of what we’ve done."

"But my gut says if we continue doing what we’ve been doing we’re going to be successful at the end of the day tomorrow."

Klinsmann: "We want to win this thing badly. And we want to keep growing. This is a group that has been through a lot of pain the last four weeks with a lot of hard and dedicated work. You want them to be rewarded. But you also want them to be realistic. CONCACAF is not the World Cup. We all know there are different levels out there."

"We want to go down to Brazil, where the big music is played."

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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