World Cup 2014

Armchair Analyst: The unbearable lightness of being Landon Donovan & other Week 12 thoughts

I can't remember the last time we had a week this momentous, both for club and country. And it all revolved around one guy: future No. 1 SuperDraft pick Cyle Larin of UConn! Yes, Larin made his Canadian debut, and did so as the Canucks broke a 960-minute goalless drought thanks to an Atiba Hutchinson PK in a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria on Friday.

Big, big day.

There was also some other stuff:


1. It was never in doubt

When Landon Donovan's autobiography hits the shelves in, let's say, eight years (right before the 2022 World Cup, right?), the events of this week will be the chapter everybody turns to. You all know what happened: the surprise omission from the USMNT, the return to the LA Galaxy, and the subsequent 4-1 beatdown of the Philadelphia Union in which he finally claimed the all-time regular-season goalscoring record.

That record came in the most Landon fashion possible, as he basically picked up a secondary assist on his own goal:

A solid chunk of what's made Donovan the greatest American soccer player of all-time is visible in that clip. You can see the vision to spot Robbie Keane and the world-class ability to thread attacking passes on the run. Then there's the burst of athleticism to get away from his defenders, and the discipline to stay onside.

And finally, the tap-in.

If you go through the video at the top, you'll see a lot of tap-ins. Donovan has always been less a pure goalscorer and more a savant at passing the ball into the net, largely because he understands the game faster than almost anybody else, and partially because he still moves faster than almost anybody else.

For me, that's what makes his omission from the USMNT so frustrating. There have been hints that Jurgen Klinsmann doesn't believe Donovan has enough in the tank to compete at a high level, and that he doesn't do enough defensive work to do the job in midfield. That the athleticism and commitment just aren't there.

This, below, is a clip from the last time Donovan played in midfield – two weeks ago in Portland:

Eighty-two minutes in, on turf, that's Donovan tracking back to cut off Darlington Nagbe – one of the most explosive attackers in the league – and force a turnover. He then immediately starts an attack going in the other direction.

That is not the form of a guy who's short on fitness. It's more the form of a guy who finished in the top third in the beep test, which is (of course) exactly what Donovan did last week, according to several sources.

Also worth noting is this play from that Portland game, in which Donovan easily accelerates past Diego Chara:

That's not a guy who's lost his burst (there were no similar clips from the Philly game, since Donovan played forward rather than midfield on Sunday. Here, have another GOAL).

As Alexi Lalas keeps saying, Klinsmann's getting paid a lot to make these big, hard decisions. And it's his prerogative to cut anyone on the roster.

He should be more forthright about his reasons, however. With the press, with the fans, and with his players.


2. Tactical change for the Quakes

When San Jose brought Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi into the squad this offseason, they billed him as a do-everything box-to-box midfielder. Yes, he played deep for a decade with Ajaccio, but here in MLS he'd play higher up the field alongside Sam Cronin.

To this point, the Pierazzi/Cronin partnership hasn't worked out. But the Pierazzi/Khari Stephenson partnership has, and it's largely because Pierazzi just gets to do the dirty work:

It was Pierazzi and Stephenson together in central midfield for San Jose's 3-0 win over Houston on Sunday night, and for the second time in recent weeks everything clicked with the pair. Yes, they had the benefit of playing with a healthy Yannick Djaló, and a healthy Steven Lenhart, and a returned-from-suspension Shea Salinas.

But that doesn't negate the fact that their skillsets complement, rather than overlap, and this in turn allows for a 4-1-3-2, which has proved both more dynamic and more defensively secure than the flat 4-4-2 we've primarily seen from this team.

Does this make Cronin expendable? Probably not right away, as he's been too good for too long. But he's also a very valuable trade chip for a team that could use another difference-maker in central midfield (Stephenson's their only option there with attacking intent) or on the flanks (Djalo has another 15 minutes before his next injury), and since the Quakes already have rookie JJ Koval as a ready-made Pierazzi backup, you've got to think teams will start calling about Cronin.

He's too good to sit, even if it looks as if that's exactly what he's going to have to do for the time being.


3. What is French for despair?

This sums it up, after Montreal's 4-1 loss at previously punchless Colorado:

The Impact attack continues to be promising while the Impact defense continues to be the flimsiest in the league. Both Edson Buddle and Dillon Powers were allowed to turn in the box – one early in the game, one late. Buddle drew a PK and Powers buried his second goal of the game.

Kamani Hill scored a bending beauty after no one closed him down at the top of the box. Shane O'Neill's first MLS goal was nearly as pretty, after he pounced on an awful clearance.

The talent on the backline isn't great, but it's not as bad as it's looked. Part of that has to fall on new manager Frank Klopas, but it's lack of cohesion that's the real culprit. How is a team supposed to build any sort of chemistry when there is a new coach, a new system, a new scheme every year?

It's the same thing we've seen forever at Chivas TBD and in Toronto FC. Both those clubs seem like they're finally shedding the "chop and change" culture.

Montreal's decision-makers need to follow suit.


A few more points to make...

10. Lots of people were happy for Donovan, perhaps no one moreso than former teammate Mike Magee. The 2013 MVP didn't play as his Chicago Fire lost 2-0 to Columbus on Saturday, but he still managed to win the Internet on Sunday:

9. There was one guy who probably wasn't that happy for Donovan:

MacMath has now given up nine goals in his last two games. I'm not sure any were really his fault.

8. Donovan's 135th illustrates a consistent problem with the Union: They're simply miserable at tracking runners between the lines. Slow rotations from the fullbacks and an inability for the central midfield to hand off runners to the central defense ... it's ugly. I feel like they've given up dozens of goals just like this no matter who's in those spots.

7. I wrote a bit about Portland's exhale-inducing 2-1 win over New York on Saturday. Good win from the Timbers, with an assist from the woodwork.

For the Red Bulls? More worries. While Eric Alexander has been very effective out wide, his decisions come just a little too slow when he's in central midfield – which is where he's played when both Péguy Luyindula and Tim Cahill (combined age: 69) aren't around. Mike Petke needs to stop that experiment and trust second-year man Michael Bustamante in that role.

Develop your youth, or sink.

6. Seattle now have two draws in two away games vs. Cascadia Cup rivals. Saturday's 2-2 stalemate in Vancouver, however, was worrisome from a defensive aspect. Particularly on Erik Hurtado's goal:

Yes, Ozzie Alonso got torched. It happens. But what on earth is Djimi Traoré doing there?

5. Last week I said I'd write about how Teal Bunbury and Patrick Mullins have been swapping spots in attack – not all the time, but just often enough to keep teams off balance. I can't do that subject justice in one of these smaller bullet points, so it'll have to wait.

Instead, I'm just going to point out that Diego Fagundez is back to his fearsome, livewire, 2013 best over the past month. He was the man of the match in New England's 2-1 win over D.C. United on Saturday, and nobody has benefitted more from the stability Mullins provides from that center-forward spot.

4. RSL continue to be impossible to beat, but another fairly listless attacking performance in a scoreless draw with FC Dallas coupled with another injury to Joao Plata really makes it feel like the clock is ticking on this 12-game streak.

3. A big "get well soon" to Mark Sherrod, Houston's rookie striker who tore his ACL midweek in a loss to United. He's the second rookie to go down with that injury, following Chivas TBD's Tommy McNamara two months ago.

2. The Pass of the Week belongs to LA's Gyasi Zardes, from the Galaxy's 2-1 win over FC Dallas on Wednesday:

1. Another "get well soon" to Sporting KC's Chance Myers, who was filling in admirably at central defense before popping his Achilles' tendon in a 2-2 Friday night draw vs. Toronto. Couple all the backline injuries with forward Dom Dwyer's goalscoring form, and you have to wonder if Sporting's about to completely flip their identity.

For the first time in forever, it feels like they can just outscore teams. And for the first time in forever, it feels like they're going to have to.