FOX Soccer Exclusive
Donovan scores hat-trick, US wins easily
Just three days after making comments to the media that suggested he might be losing his passion for the game of soccer, Landon Donovan put on the U.S. national team uniform for the first time in eight months and helped ease fears that we had seen the last of him at his best.
The leading scorer in U.S. national team history made a resounding return to national team duty on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., scoring three goals and taking part in two others in the USA’s 5-1 thrashing of Scotland, looking every bit like a player who still has plenty to give the U.S. national team.
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From his early goal, which showed off his skill and deadly finishing ability, to his strong second half, which saw him score a pair of goals and deliver a pin-point assist, Donovan enjoyed his best game in a national team uniform since the 2010 World Cup.
Donovan’s night helped ease some concerns about his desire for the game, which were raised after an eye-opening interview with American soccer media on Wednesday.
“There’s a natural point where it’s not as fun anymore, not as enjoyable, and you still try to find ways to keep it enjoyable,” Donovan said last Wednesday when talking about his passion for the game. “I used to think, maybe if I’m fit, I can play a long time. I think from a mental standpoint now I’m realizing that if I’m not enjoying it I’m not going to play.
“I still enjoy it to a large extent, but I’ve always promised myself that if that ever goes away, I’m not going to play just to play.”
Donovan showed just how much he still enjoys it on Saturday, combining excellently with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones on goals. He ran and moved and played hard for 90 minutes, showing the trademark passion that has made his lengthy national team career arguably the best in U.S. history.
Following the victory, Donovan was eager to clarify the meaning of his comments from Wednesday.
“I don’t want to be mistaken for not caring. I care,” Donovan said after Saturday’s match. “I like being a part of this team and I’m a professional and I know how to do my job. I’ve been doing this a long time.
“Tonight was one of those nights where most things went right.”
While Donovan stole the show with his three goals and assist, it was really a stellar effort for the U.S. team as a whole, with several players enjoying memorable evenings.
Michael Bradley followed up his masterful showing against Italy in February with another outstanding effort. He scored the goal of the night on a long-range blast and helped set up three other goals. Jermaine Jones was outstanding as well, playing a part in two goals before scoring his own with a header goal off a Donovan pass.
Klinsmann deployed Saturday’s starting lineup in a 4-3-2-1 formation, and before the match there was concern about whether the fabled ‘Christmas Tree’ formation might yield an overly-defensive match. Those concerns were put to rest early on, as both Bradley and Jones did well to attack from their positions in the three-man midfield line.
“It was a big part of the game,” Donovan said of the commanding night of the U.S. midfield. “In the past when those three have played together it’s been tricky trying to figure out how they’re going to play because they do tend to play very similar.
“I think we forgot how good those two can be when they do go forward,” Donovan added about Bradley and Jones. “Sometimes they like to be a little more comfortable and stay a little deeper, but tonight they really went out on a limb a little bit and took some chances and it came off great.
“They were both fantastic and Mo (Edu) did a great job behind them cleaning everything up.”
The U.S. offense looked very dangerous despite missing Clint Dempsey, who is still recovering from a groin injury, and Jozy Altidore, who was not released from Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in time to participate in Saturday’s match. Terrence Boyd earned his first senior national team start playing in Altidore’s absence and the 21-year old showed some good signs, including strength and a good touch on the ball as the target striker.
Among the other standouts on the night was Jose Torres, who looked very sharp playing in a more advanced midfield position than he does for club side Pachuca. Deployed alongside Donovan as the attacking midfielders in the 4-3-2-1, Torres showed impeccable touch and sharp vision to keep the ball moving, while also providing good defensive bite.
The U.S. defense didn’t have too much to do on the night. Fabian Johnson enjoyed another strong showing at left back, a position he should have locked up for the foreseeable future. His forays into the attack are vital considering how important attacking fullbacks are to the systems Klinsmann is trying to implement.
Geoff Cameron looked nervous at times in a surprise start at centerback, and couldn’t really do much to avoid the own goal that bounced off his chest and into the U.S. net. It was still a good match to build on playing in place of Oguchi Onyewu, who is still projected to start in central defense when World Cup qualifying begins.
The Americans won’t have much time to celebrate Saturday night’s blowout. Not with Brazil up next on Wednesday at Fed Ex Field. The South American powerhouse will present a significantly tougher test than Scotland did, and the U.S. defense will be pressured in a way they simply weren’t on Saturday.
Dempsey still seems like a long-shot to start in that match, as does Altidore, who won’t join the team until Monday. If neither of those players can go, look for Klinsmann to field a very similar lineup on Wednesday to the team that just routed Scotland, with the most likely exception being Onyewu replacing Cameron.
One player who seems like a safe bet to take on the Brazilians is Donovan, who returned from an eight-month national team hiatus to remind us all that, while he won’t be around forever, Donovan still has plenty to offer the U.S. national team.
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