The U.S. midfielder could have complained after coach Bob Bradley made him a bench player, but he's kept his mouth shut and produced on the field in a reserve role.
PASADENA, Calif. - U.S. coach Bob Bradley sounded much like former New York Jets coach Herman Edwards when asked what a loss in the Gold Cup final against Mexico would mean for his team.
“You play to win,” he said.
So far Bradley has made some pretty bold decisions to get victories, especially after watching his team suffer one of its worse losses in recent history with a 2-1 defeat to Panama during the group stage.
Not many coaches would have brought Freddy Adu off the bench during the most crucial minutes of the tournament. And to sit star midfielder Landon Donovan at the beginning of his team’s two knockout games looked like a crazy move made by a coach whose job was likely on the line.
“As a group you’re committed in doing whatever it takes to win a championship,” Bradley said.
Bradley’s decision-making, while a little bizarre, has paid off. And there’s a good chance Donovan, the team’s all-time leading scorer, will come off the bench again. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?
“There are so many different factors,” Bradley said of his decision-making. “These are all things that the staff discusses and then often time we discuss with different players. (Donovan’s) been part of some of the discussions even leading into decisions the last two games and we’ll go the same way.”
It also helps that Bradley is dealing with a true professional in Donovan, who, unlike several American pro athletes, puts the team first. The 29-year-old could have complained and sulked on the sideline, but instead entered each game in the second half, played solid soccer and never said a negative word about Bradley's decision.
He assisted USA’s only goal against Panama in the semis.
“No competitor ever likes to start on the bench, so if anyone says that to you they’re lying to you,” Donovan said. “For me personally, fortunately I don’t get paid to make those decisions. But what’s important for me is not when I play, where I play, how many minutes I’m playing, it’s that I’m effective when I do play.”
The decision to leave Donovan off the starting XI originally looked like a disciplinary action by Bradley, but now it simply looks like a good soccer move. Both Donovan and midfielder Clint Dempsey attended weddings the day before last Sunday’s match against Jamaica and made it back on game day.
Only Dempsey was on the field for kick off.
“I know I’m fit enough to play and I know I’m capable of playing,” Donovan said. “The last two games it made sense for me to not start the game.”
Donovan, who plays for the LA Galaxy is thrilled to be back home playing at the Rose Bowl. But he’s still unsure about when his family and friends in attendance will see him run out on the field. It’s not a question of if he will play, it’s a question about when he will play.
“Bob told me they’re still debating about how they’re going to use me tomorrow,” he said after Friday’s practice. “And I’m going to be prepared either way. The important thing is that when I do get on the field I’m ready and I’m helping the team.”
One thing is clear, though. Donovan can’t wait to get out on that field and take part in the historic rivalry between the two best teams in the CONCACAF region.
“I love these games,” he said. “As a competitor, these are the game you want to play.”
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Alex Labidou contributed reporting for this article