PASADENA, Calif. — The all-time leading scorer in US national team history started the last two games on the bench. Is it conceivable that Landon Donovan could be a substitute again in the US’ biggest game in 12 months?
Donovan admitted to reporters on Friday that head coach Bob Bradley and his staff still haven’t made a final decision as whether the LA Galaxy star will be in the lineup against Mexico in Saturday’s Gold Cup final (9 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
“The last two games, it made sense for me not to start the game,” Donovan said Friday at a press conference at the Rose Bowl. “We’ll see tomorrow. Bob’s told me that they’re still debating on how they’re going to use me tomorrow.”
For his part, Bradley predictably shed little light on which direction he was leaning, but did say he and his staff were mulling over “many factors” on how best to use the player who has been involved in a third of all goals scored during his tenure as head coach.
Donovan was held out of the starting lineup for the quarterfinal against Jamaica after returning on a cross-country flight that morning from his sister’s wedding, then was left off the 11 that took the field against Panama in the semifinals due to what Bradley said was fatigue. But Donovan ended up delivering the winning assist in the US’ 1-0 victory as a second-half sub.
“No competitor ever likes to start on the bench,” Donovan said. “What’s important for me is not when I play, where I play, how many minutes I’m playing — it’s that I’m effective when I do play. I know I’m fit enough to play, I know I’m capable of playing.”
Bradley suggested on Friday that he’ll continue to use the 4-2-3-1 formation he employed against both Jamaica and Panama. In both of those games, Bradley deployed Alejandro Bedoya wide right in the spot normally occupied by Donovan.
“We like to have the flexibility,” Bradley said of the tactical approach. “I think our ability to move the ball around and play quickly — you could see it improve in recent years and, in this last stretch, we feel it’s something that has helped us, so we’d like to keep building upon that as well.”
Bedoya has been a dose of energy for the US in both games and Bradley likes what he’s seen from the 24-year-old. When asked if the speedy winger may get the start against Mexico, Bradley grinned and only offered, “Possibly.”
That doesn’t seem to bother Donovan, who knows he’ll be needed at some point in the massive matchup with Mexico. He says regardless of how he’s used, he will be ready against El Tri.
“I’m going to be prepared either way,” he said. “The important thing is that when I do get on the field that I’m ready and I’m helping the team win.”