2000 Olympics: Where was Landon?

Landon Donovan may be the greatest young talent American soccer has ever produced, but U.S. coach Clive Charles used him reluctantly in the Olympics.

A frustrated father, the star of the future, and Clive Charles' reluctance to change a lineup that brought his team stunning success added up to a wee bit of controversy as the U.S. men's Olympic team marched into the Sydney Games' medal round.

Forget the Americans' sizzling form and their dominance of opponents nobody - excepting themselves - thought they could handle, the loudest questions surrounding the squad have all been about Landon Donovan's playing time.

The 18-year-old phenom saw no action in the Yanks' first two Olympic matches, impressive ties with the Czech Republic and Cameroon, and the first queries Charles faced in the postgame news conferences were all about Donovan.

Tim Donovan, Landon's father, tossed in his two cents with an open letter to Charles on the message boards at BigSoccer.com, criticizing the coach for leaving a "winner" on the bench while accepting the "mediocrity" of drawn results.

Speaking as a fan

"In all sports, we have the pushy parent, and if anything, I want to make it clear that I am not a pushy parent," Tim Donovan said a few days after the storm broke. "I was speaking purely as a fan of soccer. We're not playing an obvious talent, and for what reasons, I didn't know."

Landon Donovan burst on the international scene last year when he won the Golden Ball, the MVP award, at the Under-17 World Cup in New Zealand.

He's in his second season at German club Bayer Leverkusen, advancing from Leverkusen's amateur team (Third Division) to its first team this summer.

Charles had also sat Donovan for the first two games of Olympic qualifying. Donovan then started and scored two goals in the 4-0 win over Guatemala that clinched a berth in the Olympics.

Donovan was marvelous coming off the bench for 60 minutes against Kuwait - scoring the 88th-minute goal that delivered the Group C title to the Yanks - and 75 minutes against Japan.

He had little impact, however, on the Spain game after coming on in the 39th minute

Donovan said he wasn't bothered by his father's outcry.

"You have to understand a parent's point of view," he said. "I think it affects parents more when they think their son should be starting, and I think it affects him more than it affects me.

"[My dad] is very emotional. But he's not calling Clive saying, 'Put my son in, you jerk.' He just wants people to know how he feels, and I think he has a right to do that."

Charles, clearly sick of the inquisition, said he hadn't seen the letter. It's a topic in which he holds no interest.

"I can't deal with that," he said. "I mean, this is his dad. C'mon."

Donovan's role during the Olympics was to provide relief in an attacking midfield position.

"I've said all along," Charles said, "I'll put Landon on the field when Landon can do well. ... I didn't play him [in the first two games] because the team was playing very well and creating lots of opportunities. We weren't creating many opportunities against Kuwait because Kuwait dropped off and gave us all this room. So, Landon, go on and take advantage of it.

"In the other games, we didn't have that room. Landon would have spent most of his time chasing people back. That's not his strength. But give Landon space and time, and he'll murder you."

Donovan acknowledges he's frustrated by his role, less so after finally seeing some action.

A good experience

"When I look at it from outside," he says, "I am the youngest player on the team, so it's hard to say I should be starting. ... When someone says you're not going to be starting, it's kind of like a slap in the face. But I have to accept that, and it's part of soccer, and it's good I'm learning it now. It's a good experience for me."

And Tim Donovan is happy he got his frustration out.

"I vented the best way I could," he said. "If it had any affect, then I'm glad. If it didn't, at least I got it out of my system.

"I'm telling you, as much as Landon and any of the 18 guys on that team, I want them to win. ... And I would hope whoever is managing that shop is going to drive them the best they can be driven. With all due respect to Clive, I didn't think he was, I thought he got a little stage-struck.

"Hey, what can I say? That's my opinion, and if it's wrong, then I stand to be corrected. If it's right, well, then, let's move on and win."

by Soccer America senior editor Scott French

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