World Cup: Landon Donovan critical of USMNT's approach: "I don't think we were set up to succeed"
CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan, like all Americans, was disappointed to see the United States exit the World Cup and thought they fought gallantly against a more talented Belgium side in the round of 16, but he doesn't believe Jurgen Klinsmann's tactics gave the team a chance to succeed.
Donovan, controversially omitted from the US roster, thinks Klinsmann backed off from a proactive approach leading to the World Cup and that doing so harmed the Yanks' chance to advance further.
"It's certainly a missed opportunity," he said following the LA Galaxy's training session Wednesday morning, a day after the US lost in overtime to Belgium. "The thought of having a game Saturday – the day after the Fourth of July, against [Lionel] Messi and Argentina, with what was already a swelling audience – would have been incredible.
"I think we're all disappointed in what happened yesterday. I think the most disappointing is we didn't seem like we gave it a real effort, from a tactical standpoint. I thought the guys did everything they could, they did everything that was asked of them, but I don't think we were set up to succeed yesterday, and that was tough to watch."
Donovan, who starred for the US at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups, said the tournament could be considered a success, given that the Americans emerged from a difficult group to reach the knockout stage.
"It's a results-oriented business, and so, results-wise, you can hold your head high," he said. "If you really look at the performances, there were some good performances by guys, some not-so-good performances by guys. As a whole, I think tactically, the team was not set up to succeed.
"They were set up in a way that was opposite from what they've been the past couple years, which is opening up, passing, attacking – trying to do that. And the team's been successful that way. Why they decided to switch that in the World Cup, none of us will know. From a playing standpoint, I think the guys will probably be disappointed in the way things went."
Asked whether it would have been wise to try to match up with a Belgian team that has so many talented attacking players, Donovan acknowledged that "everybody's an expert when they're watching at home" and that he "could pretend like I know what I'm talking about and what we should have done."
"Hindsight is 20/20, so in hindsight you would say we should've been more attacking," he said. "Maybe if we had been more attacking, we would have gotten four counterattack goals scored against us. So you never know. ... But my feeling as a player, if I'm in that locker room before that game – before the Germany game, before the Belgium game – and the coach walked in and said we're playing a 4-5-1 and Clint [Dempsey] is up top by himself, I would have been disappointed. Because I would have said let's go for it. I want a chance to go for it and try to win the game."
He lauded Tim Howard and said that only Kasey Keller's performance to beat Brazil in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals compares, in his mind, with the goalkeeper's 16-save performance Tuesday. He also asserted that Kyle Beckerman's presence would have helped the US be a better attacking side, and that the team deserves praise for fighting valiantly in difficult circumstances.
Donovan did not address how things might have been different had he been part of the team in Brazil, but he noted that Michael Bradley played in an "unnatural position" at attacking midfield and he would have been more effective in a deeper role with another player in front of him.
Donovan's best position arguably is in such a slot.
"Michael was put in the wrong position," he said. "He was put in a position that he's not used to playing. He does a better job, as you saw with Julian Green's goal, being in a deeper position. And having someone in a front of him, someone to help Clint also, makes him that much better because he's got more opportunity to pick out different passes, more attacking options ahead of him. I think that was clearly an error."
He said it was "tough to watch " because "as athletes, we all feel that we can help."
The US nearly pulled out a victory at the end of regulation, when Chris Wondolowski sent an open shot in front of the net over the crossbar, and nearly forced penalty kicks with a late thrust in overtime. Donovan said he hoped Wondolowski would not let the miss "define him."
"If that chance fell 10 more times, you want Wondo to be on the end of it," he said. "That's a perfect Wondo goal. You would have expected that that went in, and maybe the one out of 10 times happened that he didn't score. It's disappointing."
Donovan was noncommittal when asked if he would return to the national team or consider an overage spot on the Olympic team at the Rio de Janeiro Games in two years.
"We'll see," he said. "That depends on a lot of conversations that would have to be held."