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Controversy leads to opportunity

At least for a moment in time, controversy surrounding Landon Donovan being left off the USMNT roster can be turned into an important opportunity

Mike Zarrilli

It was a coaching decision that sent shockwaves throughout the entire United States. It didn't happen in baseball, basketball, football, or even hockey. Instead the announcement was by the German coach of the United States Men's National Soccer Team. Jurgen Klinsmann was letting the nation know, a week before his deadline, that the country's greatest player would not be on the roster for the upcoming World Cup.

To put it simply, people were angry. One could argue that the fact that there is controversy this large surrounding US soccer is a victory for the sport's development in this country over the past 20 years. But, at the age of 32, this was supposed to be Donovan's swan song.

Donovan could have played an important part in Brazil, but he obviously didn't meet whatever standard Klinsmann set. Instead of kowtowing to the pressure and notoriety that a legend like Donovan demands, Kinsmann made the tough decision to leave him off the team. Fans were not happy.

But instead of whining uselessly, I'm going to take this pre-World Cup time to be excited about the unkown possibility. Instead of the narrative being "Can Landon do it in his final World Cup?," it's "Who is going to step up?"

There are candidates. In warm-up matches, the triad of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore have begun to work nicely together up front. Over the past few years under Klinsmann, the United States has gone from being relatively easy to defend to an offense that is much more dynamic and unpredictable -- leading to more interesting soccer and better chances.

Dempsey has a good International resume. Altidore has played overseas for years as has Bradley, before returning to MLS this season.

Evolved Style?

Without Donovan's leadership, there is a gap that the three players above have an opportunity to fill. Instead of being sad about Donovan's absence, I'm eager to see what kind of a leader Bradley can be. Instead of going into Landon withdrawals, I am hopeful that Altidore can finally be the player US fans have always wanted him to be. Instead of hanging my head about Donovan's absence, maybe other players can fill the gap of leadership, movement on the pitch, and style of play.

Instead of being sad, I'm on the edge of my seat to see if, finally, the United States' style of play has actually evolved and to find out if they can sustain a better style over the course of at least three games.

Winning might not be everything

In the "Group of Death," it's possible that the United States could be clearly better than four years ago and still not make the knock-out round. Portugal, Germany, and Ghana are that good. While it won't be easy, I am going to TRY to be reasonable and not make snap judgments solely based on outcomes against three very good teams...


But, can you imagine what would happen if this team somehow found a way through their group? Think about the HUGE step forward it would be for the United States to, without Donovan, move to the knockout stage. It would be the single most successful World Cup in the country's history. Players like Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore, Tim Howard, and others would join Donovan as household names for casual fans.

I said earlier that the sport has made huge growth in the past 20 years. Getting out of this deadly group could make an impact akin to the 1994 World Cup, making new fans and capitalizing on the burgeoning momentum MLS has gathered over the past five years.

Then again, if they fail miserably I think I'll probably try to argue that you've got to risk big to win big. For his part, Jurgen Klinsmann -- the man in charge -- has already rolled his dice. We'll wait a few weeks to see whether he'll be coming back a hero or just crapped out.