There was a time not too long ago when the casual soccer fan looked at the U.S. men’s national team and saw two types of players: Landon Donovan ... and everyone else.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
How things have changed.
Donovan will miss Tuesday’s CONCACAF qualifier against Guatemala at Livestrong Sporting Park after suffering a knee injury in a Los Angeles Galaxy game last week. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in a press conference Monday that he initially expected Donovan to play Tuesday night before an MRI late last week revealed the injury was worse than feared.
The game will go on without him. But to put it rather bluntly, not a lot of Kansas City soccer fans seem to care they won’t have the chance to see Donovan in action.
“It gives us a chance to root for someone other than the usual suspects,” said David George, a Sporting Kansas City season ticket holder who attended Sunday’s open practice for the national team. “And it gives more minutes to (Sporting Kansas City’s Graham) Zusi.”
The glass-half full outlook, indeed.
Zusi played 78 minutes in the 2-1 U.S. victory against Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night and assisted on Eddie Johnson’s goal in the 20th minute. Donovan also missed that match.
Since earning his spot on the national team, Zusi has expectedly become a Kansas City crowd favorite. When the U.S. team entered Livestrong Sporting Park for its training session Sunday morning, the crowd’s cheers quickly changed to a “Zuuuuusi” harmony as he emerged from the tunnel.
“It will be very exciting to watch him play with the U.S. in person,” said Paul Robinson, also a Sporting KC season ticket holder. “I think with Donovan out, we’ll get to see more from (Zusi). That’s exciting for the fans because we’ve seen him play all year with Sporting KC, and now he’s on the big stage.”
Zusi’s roster spot allows Kansas City to look past Donovan’s absence, and the national scene may slowly be following KC’s lead.
Donovan, 30, hinted over the summer he is considering retirement following the MLS season, but he won’t leave the cupboard bare of star power if he ends his career.
Clint Dempsey, who transferred to Tottenham Hotspur on Aug. 31, continues to impress in the English Premier League, as does Everton goalie Tim Howard. Midfielder Michael Bradley is a starter for Roma in Italy’s Serie A.
“Maybe a couple of years ago it would have been a really big deal if (Donovan) wasn’t here,” said Robert Westhelle of New Jersey, who estimated this will mark the 15th international match he’s attended. “Now, we have other guys you look forward to seeing. I always look forward to seeing Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard.”
Perhaps this changing of the guard was best displayed by Ryan Williams and one of his sons, Bennett, as they watched Sunday’s practice.
Ryan wore Donovan’s classic No. 10 jersey, while young Bennett wore Dempsey’s No. 8.
“I’m sad (Donovan) won’t be here, but I’m still a supporter, with or without Donovan,” said Ryan, who lives in Olathe. “My sons, they have other players they follow now. They have other guys they want to see.”