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U.S. Men's National Team

Donovan: USMNT lacks impact players

Landon Donovan knows a few things about succeeding at the international level, and he doesn’t thing the U.S. Men’s National Team quite has what it takes right now to join the world’s elite.

The former U.S. Men’s National Team captain and standout performer thinks the team lacks big time impact players capable of changing a game. He saw a team struggle to create chances in the attack for an hour in last weekend’s 2-0 Gold Cup semi-final victory over Costa Rica. Clint Dempsey came on to spark the team into life, but it wasn’t nearly enough to offer much hope for the future.

Christian Pulisic is the one man giving Donovan hope. Whether it is his performances in World Cup Qualifying with the national team, or in his club matches with Borussia Dortmund, the former USMNT star sees a lot in the teenager.

“It’s U.S. Soccer’s challenge,” Donovan told Goal USA. “Argentina has six guys like that, and two of them don’t make their World Cup roster. We have one or two. That’s what needs to get better and it’s not necessarily a thing that one player just turns on. It’s, ‘Do we have that or not? Do we have those options or not?’ We have a few, but inconsistent. We need four or five consistently if we’re going to make it to the next level.”

Despite Donovan’s praise for Pulisic and his ability to create plays from nothing, he also said the team needs more players of his caliber.He says 34-year-old Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are the only ones churning out big plays, but only when they are in form, as they were in Saturday night’s Gold Cup semi-final agaisnt Costa Rica.

“(Pulisic) is pulling off plays in every game,” Donovan said. “I was watching him the other day in China against Milan, and he pulls off plays. In a perfect world you have three or four of those guys on the field. Right now, when Clint’s in form, he’s one of those guys. If he’s not, then he’s not. If Jozy’s in form, he can be.

“Christian, you can say, is one of those guys. It’s a lot on his shoulders. We should be good enough where we have three or four of those players. Like I said, if Jozy and Clint are on form, and Fabian [Johnson] is playing well, then those are guys who can pull off those plays, but right now you would say Christian’s the only one you consistently would feel confident in that way.”

However, the 2017 Gold Cup was supposed to be a chance for the younger players to break through. So far, none have truly impressed the American soccer legend. Kelyn Rowe and Dom Dwyer were a couple of the standout performers, but neither of them gave Donovan the impression that they could be big time impact players in the 2018 World Cup.

“They both can pull off a special play, which there’s high value in at this level, super high value in,” Donovan said. “In a game where they don’t pull off a play, are they doing enough? That’s a question I don’t have answered yet. I would like to see more of them, more games with them. That’s the question that needs to be answered because when you get to the next level, when you get to [World Cup] qualifiers, and you get to the World Cup, you’re not going to pull off a play like that every game.”

He wants more players to step up and make their case for being one of the first guys off the bench in the 2018 World Cup, if not earn themselves a starting spot, and he is yet to see anyone make their mark.

“I like the current 11 when I think about it,” Donovan said. “Probably [Jorge] Villafana, [Geoff] Cameron, [John] Brooks, Tim [Howard], [DeAndre] Yedlin. And then you can go through and say is it Michael [Bradley] and Christian, Darlington, Jozy, Clint and Fabian. That 11 is good. I think what we’re trying to figure out is there real depth that can be added and help in a real way. Who are 12, 13, 14, 15, 16? Who are those guys. That, I’m not sure of yet.

“Honestly, watching this Gold Cup hasn’t given me a ton of confidence in that way,” Donovan added. “You want to see a couple, like three or four, step up. Omar [Gonzalez] is for sure that next guy up at center back. Who’s the next guy up top? Is it Jordan [Morris]? Is it Juan [Agudelo]? Is it Dom? Is Kelyn Rowe really the next guy in midfield? Is it Gyasi [Zardes]? I don’t know because nobody has staked that claim.”

28 comments
  • Calabazas

    He’s right. We are nearing the end of our “golden generation” and it doesn’t seem like anybody is about to step up to replace those players.

    Like

    • Old School

      Well, we do have one, very obvious, catalyst. It remains to be seen who’s behind him.

      I just hope we have a national team manager in place that shares the philosophy and fortitude to give them a chance on the international stage when that time comes to do so.

      Like

    • TheFrenchOne

      Funny how it feels like a golden generation only when we take a look at the players we’ve lost (Donovan) or about to lose (Dempsey). In recent years, people have talked in similar terms about the 2002WC team. Hindsight…

      Like

    • The Imperative Voice

      Where I see the biggest drop is actually keeping. Howard is quality but there is nothing behind him. I am not sold on Guzan who is streaky.

      I think the most problematic part is defense because that has cost games and will make it difficult to progress in a World Cup. Brooks has had nightmare nights, and Yedlin and Villafana are better creating than defending. There aren’t any no-doubter Popes, Dolos, Bocas. We have gone through eras before when say Lalas might start, but again, where are the studs who seize the job and play well 90% of nights.

      The midfield is not bad but kind of mediocre. Like Howard they’ve been trying to push all the old farts out and no one has really stepped up. You can rattle off candidate lists, it’s not hopeless, but every time a Nagbe or Acosta or whatnot pops up it’s like one good game and then a bunch of meh. Bradley routinely has off nights but he stays in because he’s the only one who can hit a shot like Mexico.

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      • guwinster

        Yeah, the quality of US goalkeeping has definitely dropped. For roughly two decades we always had multiple world class goalkeepers at the same time. However, now that Guzan has topped out and Howard has begun to decline, who is left? There was a lot of hype around Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid, but they’ve developed into average MLS starters. Not to mention, the overall quality of MLS goalkeeping has declined over the past couple years as well.

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  • johnnyrazor

    I think this has been the issue since 2002, we have rarely had more than one or two players like LD describes. People, at least before this tournament, talked about the great depth of the USMNT pool, but I have been saying for some time the pool isn’t deeper it’s just getting wider. We haven’t produced more great players just more good players. It helps us in between WCs, but it doesn’t help us to progress further in the World Cup.

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    • Lost in Space

      Can’t really argue against your statement “We haven’t produced more great players just more good players.” We are still limited by the number of truly top quality players that progress from the youth ranks into the Sr. ranks. Too many of our top prospects seem to stagnate between the ages of 20-24….leaving us questioning what might have been. Some were derailed by injury (Holden, Riken, Boyd, ArJo, etc…), while others seemed to have suffered from a lack of guidance/professionalism (Adu, Agudelo, Agbossoumode, etc…).
      However, I do believe that the overall quality of the player pool has improved since 2002. If you go back and watch some of the games/players from the late 90’s, through the early 2000’s you can see the gradual improvement in the overall quality of our players, and subsequently the style of play.
      I would go so far as to say the current starting XI is actually better technically & tactically than the 2002 team was. While the players 12-23 are significantly better with the current team than those from 2002.
      In order to take that next step as a national team we have to solve the transition issue from Youth Prospect, to true professional. IMO this is where MLS has actually been failing the most, as teams still seem to be more willing to chase and reward big $ on aging stars for a short term benefit than developing young players by actually giving them meaningful minutes. When more team in the league follow Dallas’s model than the Galaxy’s model it will help turn the corner….but we’ll still be heavily dependent on European Clubs developing our top tier talent.

      Like

  • Gary Page

    If you want to know what a false equivalency is, here’s a wonderful example–comparing the US Gold Cup team with Argentina. At least indirectly Donovan has exposed a weakness with the US. We are unlikely to produce any world class players from guys who stay in MLS (Donovan is an exception and he spent some time in Europe). Anyone who is likely to be an impact player is playing in Europe. And the guys on our team tonight who are likely to be difference makers are those who previously played in Europe.

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    • Nate Dollars

      he’s not solely talking about the gold cup team; he specifically refers to pulisic a couple times, and he mentions other players not in the tournament.

      and this “weakness with the US” is, i guess, a weakness of any country that’s not spain, england, germany, italy, and maybe france: any player who’s good enough is probably not going to stay in his home country, whether it’s the u.s., argentina, brasil, holland, or belgium.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gary Page

        Let me add to what I was saying. The US would be better off if more of our good players went to Europe. Donovan should have stayed at Everton instead of going back to the Galaxy. Omar might have made it in the Bundesliga, but for injury. At least he’s now with the Mexican champion and he’s gotten better as a result. I think Zardes should have looked into going to Europe. Morris might have developed even faster if he had played in the Bundesliga. If some of our other young players, like Acosta, get the chance, they should go. As for the future, we may see guys like McKennie, Hyndman, Perez, CCV become impact players along with Pulisic because of their exposure to a higher level of play.

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  • The Imperative Voice

    I see the domestic problem as MLS did not earn the right to develop youth like some storied traditional club or college, or like Bradenton from gathering the best of an age group. They just took control because of rules intended to thwart cherrypicking which require them to put HGP on the books for years if they want dibs. They haven’t actually proven they have the chops to train kids up, they just got the responsibility because kids who wanted to be future HGP flocked to academies.

    Bradenton had a track record and was focused on the kids. MLS has limited track record and its focus has to be on the first team. So many of the “successes” are interesting but disappointing players like Palmer-Brown, Zardes, Fagundes, who everyone tells me are the next big thing. But unlike Bradenton there is no conversion rate worth speaking of.

    I think it’s going to be a long adjustment period while MLS teams figure out what the heck they are doing in youth development. While that happens I think the USMNT will be in a down ebb because they aren’t very good at development right now.

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    • The Imperative Voice

      If you want an interesting thought exercise subtract out all the dual nationals we have recruited and look what’s left playing for us in the pool. Wanna make it worse toss the people like Wood who graduated and signed abroad.

      Like

    • Clover362

      Dallas is doing a good job in there academy: Acosta McKinney before he got poached, Jesse, they have 15 year old starting to get non-league minutes. FCD is doing it right.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Ivan

    Pulisic is the only bright light, everybody else is just awful.
    But for Howard, USMNT could and should have lost to both Salvador and CR. Shockingly disjointed performances, and please get rid of Lijach, he is embarrassingly poor.

    Like

  • Twomilerule

    Ironic LD brought up Argentina because the last time the USMNT really got their ass kicked was in that match. Absolutely, got spanked right from the get go! There was not a point in the match up the US could exploit or control. Argentina knew they could not let US in the game early on or any point in the full 90.
    I enjoy LD’s honest realistic and sometimes harsh commentary on Fox. Refreshing from Twellmans bursts of nonsense and Holden’s sugar coating.
    I’m sure Arena is making a point to the team how important it is to win tonight’s match and raise expectations.

    Like

  • Lost in Space

    OK, I get what Donovan is saying, but at the same time this year’s Gold Cup squad is not a true representation of the talent that resides within the USMNT player pool. This year’s squad is a representation of the limited talent that is available from MLS. If he wants to know why the team is filled with “average” players he can thank Bruce for limiting his player selections (Re-Treads & Mediocre journeymen). Honestly, was anyone really expecting players like Corona, McCarty, Bedoya, Zusi, Hedges, Morrow, etc… to show anything that wasn’t already known about them? Did anyone think that players like Acosta, Miazga, Arriola, Dwyer, Morris, Agudelo, & Saief would be able to show their full capabilities/talent with such sub-par players around them? We were originally given a squad mostly of 3rd tier players…and asked the couple of players with potential to carry the team. With the addition of other quality players (Jozy, Bradley, Howard, Dempsey) the play of those who originally showed potential has risen drastically.

    If Donovan wanted to see who the potential difference makers would be than he should have convinced Bruce to called in those young/fringe guys currently playing in Europe. I know what Bruce’s idea was in not calling them….giving them a chance to advance their club position by participating in their clubs pre-season….but there are only so many FIFA dates on the Calendar, and only so many chances to have players together for an extended period of time. Bruce wasted his opportunity to see what options were truly open to him by limiting the roster to MLS & Liga MX.

    Players like Gooch, Green, Hyndmann, McKennie, Perez, Akale, Williams & Chandler all would have improved the quality of the team, and given both the coaches and the fans a look at what talent the future may actually contain.

    Like

    • David M

      it’s amazing how some keep bringing up Chandler who never had an even half-decent game for the national team, or Green, who’s been sitting on various benches in Germany for a few years now.

      Like

      • Lost in Space

        I’d take Chandler any day over Zusi at RB. As for Green I’d take a talented youngster over an average aging player like Bedoya. Don’t be surprised when Yanks Abroad has him logging consistent minutes with the leagues start up next month.

        Like

  • I scored three goals in one game

    Why is this news, who doesn’t know this already. The fast and athletic can only get u so far, u need smart, technical and all around good players to compete with the best. Not saying they need world class players at every position but they need some above average ones. Not sure when they will decide on a head coach after Bruce is gone after Russia but I hope it is decided earlier rather than later so whoever it is can have time to choose what route to take as in go young and roll with the good and the bad or keep the vets around and know what they have

    Like

  • Clover362

    One thing that I think will start making a difference is just the fact that kids today in the us are much more exposed to high quality soccer. I rember LD once gave an interview talking about how soccer IQ’s for us players was always a bit behind Europe or South Americans because you didn’t grow up watching Madrid or man united. That’s rapidly changing and I bet will start making an impact over the next 8 years.

    Like

  • Stephen Gradijan

    If I was Bobby Wood I would be pissed off that Donovan left him off his list.

    I am not Bobby Wood but I am still pissed off that Donovan left him off his list.

    Liked by 1 person

  • antonnynoronha

    Besides pulisic, there are no other players of this
    level to be summoned, I think hyndman, gooch and
    miazga may be important players in the future but
    they are very young and it is always stated that
    these players are too young to be called, Should be
    called, not to be titular, but to adapt, gaining
    minutes on the pitch, we need new idols, I see
    lletget, acosta and saief as players capable of
    raising the level of the team in the near future, but
    we need more Players like pulisic

    Like

  • acebojangles

    What happened to Gedion Zelalem? Seemed like he was poised to break out and then just fizzled.

    Like

  • Scott e Dio93

    I agree. Dempsey’ time nearly expire with USNT & Dempsey is starter for the World Cup, the era of Mathis, McBride , Beasleyor Donovan is no more. USSF program under 23’s now! Youth players at this moment have skills & fair but lack experience.

    USSF & MLS have to work a Calendar for USNT now because USNT is too unactive in friendlies & MLS’ Season has too long of a break. Youth players like: Sargent, Wright, McKennie, Akalle, CCV, EPB, LDT , maybe Klinsmann or others needs at least 25 caps & important games before Qatar 2022. Older players like Besler, Zusi & Davis were lemons in Brazil 2014, instead taking players like Corona or starting Mix over Davis.

    Like

  • Murray Braun

    I doubt very much the situation will change in the next 8 years or that a more dynamic coach will make the USMNT more competitive. This isn’t a soccer nation. Baseball, football, basketball and hockey will dominate despite the number of middle class kids playing soccer. College soccer can’t compare with professional soccer and cannot be a pipeline. Nor can MLS. The reason that we will only have one player like Pulisic is obvious. I stopped watching the Gold Cup when it became too frustrating. The highlights sufficiently tell the story. Even if we qualify, the WC with the players Donovan mentions will be a lackluster performance. Better to watch the highlights then waste time on a whole match.

    Like

  • Scott e Dio93

    U.S. Soccer is a business, the better USNT does in the World’s level elite = more $$$$$!
    So don’t avoid Copa America!!!!

    Like

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