The Landon Donovan situation
The star picked a terrible time for a hiatus, which has implications for Team USA.
THE TRUTH is that Landon Donovan simply picked the wrong time to take 4-month hiatus from soccer to re-energize.
At a time when United States Senior National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann emphasized the fact that players in America don't play enough high-level soccer, Donovan, the USA's all-time leading scorer, took a break from the game from January to late March.
Donovan's sabbatical cost him the first three games of the 2013 Major League Soccer season with the Los Angeles Galaxy and made him unavailable for three World Cup qualifying matches for the national team.
So it only comes as a slight surprise that Sports Illustrated.com reported this week that Donovan, 31, likely will be left off the roster for the United States' qualifying games at Jamaica (June 7) and against Panama (June 11 in Seattle).
Donovan is also likely to be left off the USA lineup for friendlies against Belgium on May 29 in Cleveland and Germany on June 2 in Washington, D.C.
Apparently Klinsmann took Donovan at his word that he wanted to earn is way back on the national team when he returned to the Galaxy in March.
The player who is arguably the most recognizable in United States soccer hadn't done much to impress the German-born coach.
But if Donovan's performance in the Galaxy's 4-1 victory over the Union last night at PPL Park is an indication, the three-time World Cup selection and veteran of 144 international appearances might soon force his way back into the mix.
In his best game of the season, Donovan had a goal and two assists.
He was also directly responsible for the Galaxy's first goal as his in-swinging, corner kick was punched into the net by Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath in the third minute.
Officially, it was recorded as an own goal for the Union, but it gave Donovan a part in all four goals.
"Whatever people want to take from it they will take from it," Donovan said when asked if he was making a statement to Klinsmann. "I wanted to play better than I have the last 4 weeks.
"Tonight I felt like my old self. I felt like the confidence was back. Obviously hitting the back of the net helped, but I felt like everything just sort of came together tonight and this will be more of the norm now."
The Donovan issue with the national team is complicated.
Some might think that a player who has been such a vital contributor to American soccer deserves a bit more respect. But I like Klinsmann's approach.
As a World Cup champion player for Germany and a former coach of the German national team, Klinsmann knows what it takes for a nation to rise to the pinnacle of soccer. He was brought in to elevate the United States to the next level of world soccer.
An appearance in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup finals, a quarterfinal appearance at the 2002 World Cup and a first-place finish in group play at the 2010 World Cup is good by USA standards, but the point is to rise above typical American expectations.
Comfort and complacency for players who in reality have accomplished little in the grand scope of the game is something the United States can no longer afford.
It's good for all players to know that nothing is guaranteed and everything has to always be earned and re-earned.
Let's be clear: Donovan did not take his break because he was injured. Part of it was a 10-day trip to Cambodia.
If you wanted to, you could make the argument that Donovan, who hasn't played for the national team since August 2012, walked away at a time when it was vital for America to be at its strongest.
He'd played a lot of soccer, including two loan stints at Everton of the English Premier League, but so what? The expectations for United States soccer needs to begin to match the expectations of the top nations.
Personally, I think Klinsmann is using Donovan to emphasize a point to the entire pool of American players, but Donovan opened the door to it.
Panama currently leads the CONCACAF standings with five points. The United States, Honduras and Costa Rica all have four. Gaining six points in June would put the USA in a strong position.
Can Klinsmann afford to have a player, no matter his stature, who is not in full form on the roster for those games?
"I'm just trying to play well," Donovan said. "I can't control things I have no control over. My job is to play well and I hadn't been doing that. That's all I can do."
Today on PhillyDailyNews.com: Check out the photo gallery from the Union's 4-1 loss.