KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Landon Donovan may be back at his best for club and country, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to Jurgen Klinsmann’s hook.
The German has made it clear during his two-plus years in charge of the United States that there are no sacred cows, and he reinforced that notion on Friday night in Kansas City when he replaced Donovan with Graham Zusi at halftime of what would eventually be a 2-0 victory for the Americans.
And despite Donovan’s recent struggles with a nagging ankle injury, cutting the US all-time leading scorer’s night short was what Klinsmann called a “performance-based decision.” It also came as a bit of a shock to Donovan.
“Yeah, I was surprised. I certainly didn’t play well, but I didn’t think I was the worst player on the field,” Donovan told reporters. “That’s surprising and difficult at times, but it’s part of being a professional and something I fortunately haven’t had to deal with too much. It will be a good wakeup call.”
With Donovan watching from an unfamiliar spot on the bench – he’s played all 90 minutes in seven of the 10 matches he’s appeared in since returning from his much-publicized hiatus – Zusi eventually scored the game-winning goal for the US, bringing the sharpness Klinsmann had hoped for when discussing the move with his staff at the break.
“We felt like we had to do something. We’ve got to speed it up a little bit,” Klinsmann said. “I thought Landon had problems getting into this game, but he wasn’t the only one. … We could have moved Landon up top with Jozy, but we felt Aron [Johannsson] gets those chances and maybe he puts one in. It was a simple performance-based decision.”
And although it was a decision that Donovan didn’t appear to be particularly happy about, any hard feelings between coach and player were aired out immediately after the match, according to Klinsmann.
“We spoke right after the game. I said this was simply because we wanted to make a change, and we felt you’re not getting into the game the way we hoped,” he said. “It’s no problem at all. Everybody can have a bad game. Some other guys had a bad game in the first half, too. No big deal.”
Asked about the contents of that conversation, Donovan let his coach do the talking: “I’ll keep that private,” he said.
At the very least, Donovan should be well rested if he makes the trip to Panama for Tuesday’s Hexagonal finale. And although he would have liked to show more in Kansas City, he acknowledged the night was ultimately a success.
“It definitely wasn’t our best half. It certainly wasn’t my best half,” he said. “I think it was frustrating for all of us, but in the end, it’s about finding a way to win games. A lot of times you play poorly and lose, and we found a way to win even though we didn’t play great.”