KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The LA Galaxy want him back this weekend, and at least part of Landon Donovan felt the same way as of Sunday.
Asked on Thursday, however, about his status for the US national team’s Hexagonal finale next Tuesday in Panama City, Donovan was a bit more diplomatic, emphasizing that the opportunity to gel with his international teammates was crucial while also keeping the door open for a return to the club that needs his services during the playoff push.
For now, it’s a moot point either way, with Donovan telling reporters the possibility hadn’t even been discussed ahead of Friday’s match against Jamaica at Sporting Park (6:30 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas).
“We haven’t spoken about it. My expectation is that I go to Panama unless I hear otherwise,” Donovan told reporters on Thursday. “We’ll see what happens. I understand very clearly that every opportunity here is a good chance. If I’m here, great. And if I go back, great.”
At the crux of the Galaxy’s request for their star’s premature return is the fact that the US has already qualified for Brazil, rendering matches against the Reggae Boyz and Panama little more than tune-ups, glorified friendlies in some ways.
And that may well be true in a general sense, but there’s still plenty at stake for the players. Donovan, in particular, can’t afford to settle into a comfort zone after being on the outs just months ago.
“The reality is that for all of us it’s another audition,” Donovan said. “At this point in the game, you can’t really take steps backwards if you want to be on the World Cup roster. I think we all see it that way.”
It’s not just about earning a place on the plane, either.
The top seven nations in the FIFA rankings following this international date, assuming all seven qualify for Brazil, will be seeded for the tournament along with the hosts (currently eighth in the world).
The US may be on the outside looking in at this point in the qualifying cycle, but Donovan emphasized that doesn’t mean they can afford to sleepwalk through their final Hex matches or send out a weakened team for the sake of convenience.
Besides, there are sporting considerations at play as well.
“One point that I would make is that right now we’re 13th in the world and we see how the seeding is going for the World Cup,” Donovan said. “And although we may not end up being seeded in the World Cup, there may be a point in time where we’re eighth or ninth and one game looking back in qualifying might make the difference between being a seeded team or not.
“Every game now has vital importance, especially qualifying games. I think that’s the way you have to approach it, and we also owe it to all the other teams involved to put our best team. It’s not fair if we bring an under-18 team and lose 5-0 two games in a row.”
Of course, losing to Jamaica might not have a drastic affect on the Hex, but there will be plenty of Mexican eyes on the Americans when they take on Panama.
Depending on how things go Friday, that match could determine whether or not El Tri find themselves in a playoff with New Zealand or stuck at home under the media spotlight while the rest of the world gathers in Brazil next year.
Donovan knows how he’d like to see it end up, but acknowledged he’s happy to let the chips fall as they may at this point in the qualifying cycle.
“At the end of the day, it’s better for us and for CONCACAF if Mexico’s in the World Cup, in my opinion,” he said. “We don’t play thinking about how it affects Mexico, but I would still hope that they find a way to qualify. That being said, I have a teammate now that plays for Panama that I also want in. We’ll see what happens.”