SAN JOSE, Calif. – The face of international soccer for many US national team fans has plenty of ideas on how to get the Americans back on track in the World Cup. And for Landon Donovan, it all starts with increasing the experience level for young American talents in MLS and beyond.
“We need Nick Limas and Tommy Thompsons and a plethora of other guys throughout the league getting opportunities to play and do well and succeed if we’re ever going to succeed at the national-team level,” said Donovan, whose Club Leon side will likely face Lima and Thompson at some point during their friendly with the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday. “It’s just a fact of life … Players like that getting opportunities are going to lead to us winning a World Cup someday – as long as we figure out that that’s what we need to do. I’m hopeful that that will happen.”
Lima was called into his first US national team camp in January but did not appear in the Americans’ scoreless draw against Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 28. Thompson was a mainstay of the US U-20s but hasn’t featured for the full team as of yet. At the club level, Lima stepped right into the Quakes’ starting lineup as a rookie last year, while Thompson set career bests in every category of note in 2017.
For Donovan, things start even earlier than Lima, 23, and Thompson, 22. The Americans’ all-time leading goal scorer name-checked a trio of 19-year-olds: Borussia Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic, Schalke 04 midfielder Weston McKennie and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams. The problem, however, is one of numbers.
“When you look at Argentina or Brazil or Germany or France or Belgium, Spain, Italy, those countries have 30 Tyler Adamses coming through at any given point, and we have one or two,” Donovan said. “And the only way to progress and win a World Cup is by having it the way those other countries have it. … As the league is growing, we’re bringing in foreigners and strengthening in that way, [but if] we forget about the American player, then we’re going to put ourselves behind the 8-ball.”
Donovan said he would like to see one of the crop of young MLS coaches – such as Greg Vanney in Toronto, Gregg Berhalter in Columbus, Jesse Marsch in New York, Oscar Pareja in Dallas and Peter Vermes in Kansas City – get an opportunity to take the reins after the departure of former coach Bruce Arena in the wake of the USMNT's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. But it may not matter if the US can’t increase the flow of World Cup-caliber players in the pipeline
“That would be my preference, if I were involved in that process, and I’m hopeful that one of those types of coaches will get a chance, but in the end, what I think is the bigger issue is – coaches will come and go, but how are we doing, development-wise, to make sure that Nick Limas and Tommy Thompsons are continuing to get opportunities and succeed?” he said.