The countdown to the World Cup reads 62 days. It’s at this point that fans and commentators begin to wonder how much international friendlies factor into the decision of the starting eleven at the World Cup. The question must be raised: will Landon Donovan find himself benched in the upcoming games? What about Omar Gonzalez — should he even be in that line-up? After last week’s game against Mexico, the central defender seems inconsistent and the jury is still out.
From time to time Gonzalez’ concentration seems to wander, and his consistency varies on a minute-to-minute level. This means that game-to-game he does well, but there will be moments where you can pick Gonzalez out for simply watching the game, almost as a spectator. During the first forty-five minutes against Mexico Gonzalez played well and on point. However the second half showed some spotty performance on his behalf. Both goals from Mexico went past Gonzalez. During Rafa Marquez’ goal, specifically, one could see the twenty-five year old’s concentration waver. The second goal from Alan Pulido was a classic case of ball watching. By the time he reacted to the play the ball was in the back of the net.
It’s showing with the Galaxy too. This season is just getting into gear, but if we go as far back as last year, Omar was flubbing and making mistakes. In a game against DC United, where he was at fault on a goal taken by Chris Pontius, he was quoted taking ownership of his lack of concentration in a post-game telecast:
The ball came in, I was concentrating on the ball, and I didn’t take a look at who was around me and didn’t see him. That’s the way it happened. … Obviously, I need to not be so lackadaisical there.
It seems a lesson not fully learned, based on his performance against El Tri.
Interestingly that game also ended in a draw for the Galaxy. Of course when Gonzalez is good, he’s good. In the most important moments, like the 2012 MLS Cup Final, I recall being exceedingly impressed with Gonzalez’ performance. He was organized, showed great discipline, and was focused. However, he faced Houston in that final — should he go to Brazil in two months, he’ll be up against some fiercer competition: the likes of Portugal, Ghana, and Germany.
The issue is that now, just as in the beginning of his career, these lapses in concentration appear to be cropping up. Ultimately it begs the question of whether Jurgen Klinsmann will include Gonzalez in that starting XI — or even worse, should he? Maybe it’s too early to tell, as Klinsmann suggested.
Was Landon Donovan’s substitute appearance against Mexico in the fifty-ninth minute an indication that he might also be absent from that coveted starting line-up? The possibility is very real that Jurgen Klinsmann may chose to keep Donovan benched for the first half of a game, electing to use the veteran as a super-sub in the World Cup. When probed as to why he made this decision, Klinsmann said Donovan hadn’t performed well in training.
He had no tempo in his training sessions, he had no kind of higher pace, higher rhythm, he didn’t take people on.”
For Donovan’s part, he says he just wants to do what’s best for the team.
The thirty-two year old last scored for the Galaxy in October in a game against Chivas USA, much like yesterday’s match. Since Donovan’s leave of absence for the first part of last MLS season, he is no longer captain of the Galaxy or the USMNT.
All the while something hasn’t been quite right about Donovan’s performance. Maybe it’s the tendinitis, maybe it’s the midfield position. Either way, the powerful plays we were used to may be a thing of the past. Undoubtedly this throws a wrench in the decision-making process of that line-up. We all want to see the man who scored in the 91st minute against Algeria in the previous World Cup start the next one. Could it be he’s just at a different phase in his career? Donovan has decided to go with the flow, saying: “I’m fine with whatever, I like being part of the team. On a certain day if Jurgen wants me to start and play many minutes, that’s great. If on other days he sees other options and wants to take advantage of that, I’m happy to come off the bench.”
The question on my mind is whether we will see the electric Donovan of the previous three World Cups attend Brazil. That’s who we’d all like to see and that’s what we’ve come to expect. From Omar, one hopes that concentration is his top priority. The issue is that we know these guys are going into the so-called “group of death,” and we would like to show the world that we can hold our own. These are concerns that need to admitted, and need to be faced. We know both these players to be great — they light up the field when they’re on. Will they be on in Brazil?