CARSON, Calif. – In the team meeting ahead of MLS Cup 2011, manager Dominic Kinnear and his Houston Dynamo had contemplated the very scenario they encountered at the Home Depot Center on Sunday night: Landon Donovan at forward.
“We talked about it [Saturday] that he could maybe start the game up front and they could put [Chris] Birchall out wide right,” Kinnear said in his postgame press conference. “[Donovan’s] a smart player. He plays off the second forward, he finds space and he doesn’t waste the ball. He doesn’t lose the ball. I don’t think he gets enough credit for it. He’s one of the best possession players in the league.”
Donovan started the match at right midfield, where he terrorized emergency left back Jermaine Taylor. In the 57th minute, Galaxy manager Bruce Arena moved Donovan to striker, pairing him with Robbie Keane in place of the misfiring Adam Cristman.
Donovan's game-winning goal came just 15 minutes later on a feed from Keane.
“He’s just quick,” Dynamo defender Geoff Cameron said. “He’s fast. He’s clever. I thought we did a pretty good job [on him]. A forward like that, you give him one opportunity, he puts it away. You shut him down all game and all of a sudden he gets an opportunity and puts the ball in the back of the net.”
Added Houston midfielder Adam Moffat, “He adds that speed in behind. He’s a class player. He’s a hard worker and took his goal well.”
Kinnear was an assistant coach in Donovan’s first MLS season in 2001 with the San Jose Earthquakes and was full of praise for his former pupil and all that he’s accomplished, including MLS Cup MVP honors on Sunday night.
“I think the questions about Landon are always silly to me,” Kinnear said. “What he’s done for American soccer domestically and internationally, we all benefit from it. The guy’s a fantastic player and a model person off the field. And any team in MLS would want him. When you have a player like that on your team, you have a good chance to win games. And also he tries hard defensively, which is all you can ask from someone.”
MLS Cup 2011 will reintroduce the debate of Donovan’s ideal position. Although he was dangerous from flank midfield, Donovan was lethal at striker.
Forward Brian Ching, who played alongside Donovan at forward in San Jose, said that his former teammate is capable of more at forward. The problem is Donovan is not selfish enough to demand it.
“That’s the thing about him. He’s not going to complain as long as he’s on the field,” Ching said. “It’s his unselfishness at times. Maybe he’s too unselfish at times. But he’s a great player and of course if he probably played up front, he’d probably score a little bit more goals, but you don’t see him complaining about not playing up front.”
Let the debate continue.