I just finished a preview of the upcoming U.S. national team games;
it should be posted soon posted now at SI.com. But as I talked to team staff in Carson last night, something odd struck me.
I had chatted for 20 minutes about the ongoing camp without ever once considering the program’s best player and all-time leading scorer, Landon Donovan.
Such is the focus right now, all about Jurgen Klinsmann and everything Klinsi-related. The story right now is about his out-size positive energy, which the players keep talking about. It’s about individual selections and which way the Klinsmann brain is leaning. Included in that group is an intriguing newcomer, German-born Fabian Johnson.
It’s about how fast he’ll push youngsters like Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo – faster than Bob Bradley or roughly the same pace?
It’s about his forward thinking tactics and the evolving risk assessment model. That is to say, Klinsmann doesn’t want players always thinking defense and team structure first.
It’s about assistant coaches as “tryouts” continue. It’s about Mark Verstegen, a name you may not have heard much about so far. But you will. He worked alongside Klinsmann with Germany’s national team, and is conducting extensive testing this week at the Home Depot Center. There’s a little more about that in the SI.com piece.
It’s about Klinsmann’s ultimate candor. Nothing against Bradley, but it makes a journalists’ job easier because we’re not always straining to suss out meaning and significance of everything. Klinsmann takes the view that none of this stuff amounts to state secrets – so he just says it.
At some point, the newness and amped up newsiness will wear off. Then we’ll settle back into examining individual roles within the side – like Donovan’s. Klinsmann and all his influence is surely important. But at the end of the day, it’s still about players. And Donovan will continue to be a critical cog as World Cup qualifying approaches.
Here’s what Klinsmann told a small gathering of journalists earlier this week in California. (Thanks to San Gabriel Valley Tribune writer Phil Collin for the specific quote): "Landon is over-talented. He can play several positions. I think ideally his best position is coming from a hanging role, basically a No. 10 role behind the strikers. He can come from the wings, but as long as he has the goal in front of him. He's not a player who plays with his back to the goal so he's not a striker-striker. He can play that kind of second striker role.”
Not much new there, of course. That’s basically how Bradley (and L.A. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena) have used Donovan lately, allowing for tweaks here and there based on surrounding talent, or lack thereof.
The other point to consider (and something I didn’t get into in the SI.com piece, mostly because there’s just too much to talk about): Donovan’s paw prints are all over the Home Depot Center, site of Friday’s friendly. He plays there for his MLS side, of course. He was responsible for the initial U.S. national team goal inside the building back in 2004 against Denmark. Donovan was again inside the HDC as he made history, becoming the U.S. all-time leading scorer with a penalty kick in a 2-0 win against Sweden on Jan. 19, 2008.
Those notes are here, by the way, along with much more.
All this might be the story this week … except there’s a bigger story thanks to a certain German-American now in charge.