WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Landon Donovan’s return to the U.S. squad for June’s World Cup qualifiers is no certainty as the country’s all-time top scorer dropped down the pecking during his break from the game, coach Juergen Klinsmann said on Wednesday.
Donovan has already missed World Cup qualifiers against Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico in recent months following his decision last December to take a break from the game.
The winger, who was an automatic choice under previous coaches Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena, returned to action with Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy in late March but Klinsmann feels other players now have a stronger claim.
“I‘m not talking names but there are players clearly ahead of Landon Donovan right now,” the former Germany coach told a small group of reporters.
“Things will develop over time, we will see how he will do in the next couple of weeks, months and we will look at the entire picture and make our calls.”
Asked if there was any question whether a fully fit and in-form Donovan would return to the team, Klinsmann said: “There are a lot of questions. Looking back on the last two years that we have been in charge of the program we have seen a lot of players coming through and making big impacts, showing they are a thousand percent committed to the cause and to the team and built themselves a very strong position.”
Klinsmann said he has not spoken to Donovan since his return to action.
“We spoke at length at the end of January when he said he didn’t know when to come back and then of course he made his choice to come back at the end of March when we were, of course, busy with Costa Rica and Mexico,” said Klinsmann.
“I‘m just glad to see him back on the field. Now he is catching up and is trying his best, I‘m watching and observing and then down the road I will make my decisions in terms of who I see in front of him, the depth chart we have and in terms of where we see him right now within the roster and then I will decide whether to bring him in or not to bring him in.”
After friendly games against Belgium and Germany, the U.S. face World Cup qualifiers in June against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras - three matches which will go a long way to determining whether the U.S. make it to next year’s finals in Brazil.
Klinsmann, who used Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi in Donovan’s usual slot on the right-flank during the April games, said the team had developed a chemistry over the past two years when Donovan, who has 49 goals in 144 games for the United States, was out with injuries and then his break.
“There is a chemistry being developed of a group and you have to feel where it is moving towards. He hasn’t been part of the development of that team most of the time over the last two years, so chemistry is extremely important,” he said.
”Most of the time, he was not part of that process, that was his choice and I totally understand that, it’s no problem. But at the same time we are moving forward at our speed and therefore it is not down to one game when you score a goal and say now I am back in the team - it doesn’t work that way.
“I’ve always said that we will observe him, like we observe all the other players over the stretch of a long period and then we decide whether he is part of that picture or not.”
Editing by Frank Pingue