By Paul Kennedy
The news that Landon Donovan won't be in Jurgen Klinsmann's squad of 23-25 players for the upcoming friendlies against Belgium and Germany and World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras should come as no surprise.
After Donovan's return from a four-month sabbatical, Klinsmann said last month Donovan had fallen behind other players in the U.S. squad and he'd see how Donovan did in the following couple of weeks and make a decision.
If Saturday's game at Vancouver -- a 3-1 loss to the Whitecaps -- is any indication, Donovan is a shadow of the player that won MLS Best XI honors five straight years and played well in two loan spells at English club Everton.
According to a report by SI.com's Grant Wahl, Klinsmann, who was in Sao Paulo Tuesday for Tijuana's Libertadores Cup match against Palmeiras involving Americans Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona, does not intend to call up Donovan, barring a last-minute rash of injuries.
While Donovan was rarely MLS's dominant player in the manner of a playmaker during his first 12 years in the league, his runs, passing and vision always put pressure on the opposing defense, and his presence on the field was always felt.
The fact that Robbie Keane, his partner in the Galaxy attack the last two seasons, has been available for only one game in which Donovan played has not helped his comeback. His lone goal (on a pass from Keane) and assist coincidentally came in that game, a 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City.
Donovan returned to action almost immediately after re-joining the Galaxy for their Concacaf Champions League semifinal series against Monterrey and was set back up a leg strain suffered in the win over Sporting Kansas City.
Perhaps the most attention was given to the penalty kicks Donovan missed against FC Dallas and Houston -- he had missed only three of 37 penalties in his first 12 seasons in MLS -- but his touch on even such things as corner kicks -- where he has been dangerous throughout his career -- has been off.
From the point of view of the national team, that Klinsmann has players ahead of Donovan should be seen as good news. Graham Zusi doesn't have Donovan's pace, but he has played reasonably well since earning a starting job in the position Donovan would likely hold in Klinsmann's midfield.
Ironically, Klinsmann would have been more inclined -- nay desperate -- to recall Donovan for the March qualifiers when the national team was hit by a slew of injuries, many at the last minute.
Heading into the final weekend before Klinsmann must announce his squad, four players who have played in the Hexagonal have not been playing in recent weeks -- Timmy Chandler, Matt Besler and Danny Williams, who have been injured, and Brek Shea, who has not been dressing at Stoke City -- but only Shea would be a direct competitor to Donovan. (In addition, Klinsmann should have Jose Torres available again after missing the March qualifiers with a slight hamstring injury.)
Donovan's absence from Games 4-6 of the Hexagonal does not mean his national team career is over or he won't be a candidate for the 2014 World Cup if the USA qualifies.
Donovan himself took the long-term view after the Sporting KC game and admitted he had a "long way to go." Another month of MLS play could give him time to regain more of his form and earn a call-up for the Gold Cup in July.
The USA, which will be without its first-team stars for the Gold Cup, could use Donovan's experience, and Donovan could use the Gold Cup to regain Klinsmann's confidence in him.
With players like Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez and Chandler, Klinsmann has demonstrated he doesn't give up on players. For all his criticism of Donovan, there's no reason to believe Klinsmann will easily give up on the USA's all-time leading scorer.