September 13, 2009


As Landon Donovan goes, so goes the U.S. team: Given free rein, midfielder has become one of the best in the world (Grahame L. Jones, September 13, 2009, LA Times)

Turning Donovan from an out-and-out goal scorer into a provider for front-running forwards Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies has transformed the U.S. star.

He is a more complete player now, more focused, more aware of his role and, if anything, even more dangerous. He created all three goals in the recent World Cup qualifying victories over El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago.

Playing wide left, but with freedom to switch flanks or to move inside when he wants, Donovan is difficult for opponents to track. He is enjoying the role.

"I like it," he said. "It came about, I guess, in the Honduras game in Chicago before we went to the Confederations Cup. I think having that game and then having five games in a row playing in that position at a high level against very good teams I just got comfortable with it.

"The biggest part -- and I'm still learning this as evidenced by the Mexico game -- is making sure in certain situations how to defend properly. But I like being able to face the defense, run at people, attack people, and I also like having two real forwards ahead of me that I can get the ball to so that they can do what they do."

In the El Salvador match, Donovan's pinpoint free kick from the right allowed Clint Dempsey to score on a diving header. Then, Donovan's well-timed cross from the left set up a headed goal by Altidore.

"I'm trying to put the ball in a dangerous area, and then it's their job to get on the end of it," Donovan said.

Against Trinidad and Tobago, his soccer smarts and vision came into play as he cut back a pass from which Ricardo Clark scored the game winner.

Is what he is doing similar to what Cuauhtemoc Blanco is doing for Mexico or Kaka for Brazil? Donovan was asked.

"You're comparing me to Kaka? I'll take that," he grinned.

The reality of the modern formation is that it doesn't matter where your width comes from, so long as the two guys providing it on the attack can get back and defend. When the US team has Donovan providing that width on the left and Jonathan Spector on the right they look have a coherent attack without losing any defense--especially because that leaves them extremely strong through the middle (Bradley, Clark, Gooch, demerit/Marshall). There are still a few adjustments to be made though: Dempsey has to replace Davies to receive the service into the box; you have to pair a midfielder who can hold the ball and distribute from the middle of the field with Donovan (Feilhaber, Torres or whoever); and you need to see if Marvell Wynne can be even more effective than Spector because of his superior speed. Not playing Wynne, Feilhaber and Torres in at least the Gold Cup was a wasted opportunity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2009 12:00 AM
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