USMNT Roundtable: Landon Donovan & Tim Howard – what’s the diff?
Timmy’s taking some time away from USMNT. Just like Landon did in 2013. So these two things are the same, right? Or not? The roundtable is in session…
It feels like forever since USMNT last played, but the players still find ways to get themselves noticed.
Tim Howard has been less visible (to be fair, most of the world has been less visible than Jones over the last few weeks), but apparently he’s been busy. Thinking. And after due consideration, he’s decided to take some time off from the international game.
This is not a retirement, just a…well, the word for it is sabbatical. That is a word you don’t hear very often (unless you work in HR for a university). Indeed, if all you read about is football matters, you may not have heard it since Landon Donovan took his break from the game last year.
Or maybe there is greater similarity between Howard’s choice to forego international soccer for 12 months now and Landon’s decision to take time off for the first quarter of 2013 than simply the vocabulary deployed to describe either episode.
To the roundtable! Question: Tim Howard and Landon Donovan – is there a difference?
Tim Howard’s decision to take a break from internationals was a little bit of a shock, and it’s being compared to Donovan’s sabbatical at the beginning of 2013. I mean, it’s the entire reason for this roundtable. But to compare the two decisions, it’s important to note what was/is going on during each players’ time away from USMNT.
In the case of Donovan, he took his break from December 2012 (after MLS Cup) through late March 2013. During that time, the LA Galaxy went through preseason and three league matches (2-0-1 record) without their captain.
USMNT also started the final round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup. The team played three matches before Donovan returned to soccer, going 1-1-1. Donovan wouldn’t actually play for the US until the 2013 Gold Cup, but he was unavailable for selection for those three games only.
Tim Howard plans to take a full year off from international soccer, but will continue to play for Everton all the while. Howard won’t miss any qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup: USMNT goes straight to the third round of qualifying in CONCACAF.
He will miss the 2015 Gold Cup, but this isn’t as important since CONCACAF has changed how it selects the representative for Confederations Cup. There will be a playoff between the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup winners (unless the same team wins both tournaments). USMNT, as winners of Gold Cup 2013, is already in the playoff.
It’s not really fair to bash either man for wanting to take a break. Every player in international football goes through a lot of physical and mental stress. They have 34+ games to play with their club teams depending on the competitions they are in. Howard’s club, Everton, has 38 League games this year, as well as at least 1 game (possibly more) in both the Carling (League) Cup and FA Cup, and a minimum of 6 Europa League games (group stage), maybe more depending on how the team does.
On top of that, a typical international year has about 10 games, often more if there is a competition like the Gold Cup on the calendar. That’s a lot of travel, especially for European-based players like Howard.
That being said, the situations are different, and Howard deserves more leeway than Donovan in this respect. I don’t begrudge Donovan the time off, but he missed meaningful games for his country. USMNT was in the last round of qualifying for the World Cup. Mexico was coming off its best year in recent history, and the Yanks had squeaked by in the third round of qualification, needing a last day win to secure their spot.
The first few games in the Hex were critical, and Donovan wasn’t there.
Howard will be missing the 2015 Gold Cup, the only competitive games in 2015, but this edition doesn’t matter as much as the 2011 tournament. By winning the 2013 Gold Cup, USMNT still has a shot at the Confederations Cup if it doesn’t win the 2015 edition.
Additionally, the US isn’t short of goalkeeping talent (unlike the midfield positions). We have Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando, who were both on the roster in Brazil. Nor will Howard be completely out of the game: he will still be playing for Everton, so when (if) he does come back for USMNT, will be match fit.
Donovan doesn’t deserve the shit he got for his break, and neither does Howard. But, at the end of the day, Howard’s break hurts USMNT (and his club team) less.
LD v. TH
Really? We’re debating this?
The expression “apples versus oranges” is often overused, but is rather apropos in this instance.
No one can fault Landon Donovan for wanting a break. Unlike other American sports, soccer is year-round and, as the face of the national program, LD fought the demands of the role, on top of the exhaustion of the game.
Yet, his approach to the break left a lot to be desired. Donovan chose to avoid confrontation by abandoning his responsibilities as a player and a leader for both his club and country, with no indication of a return. He preferred to escape with nothing more than a Post-It note saying “Bye guys”.
Conversely, by all accounts Tim Howard has been forthcoming about his hiatus from the national team. Note the distinction between Howard’s USMNT break and Donovan’s break from both the Stars and Stripes and LA Galaxy.
Howard has chosen to continue playing club soccer and, instead of appearing for the Yanks during international breaks, he will spend time with family. Who can argue with that?
Howard chose to include Jurgen Klinsmann in his plans, get the gaffer’s support, and show leadership by not closing the book on his USA career. All things Landon Donovan failed to do.
Whether Howard actually returns and plays meaningful minutes remains to be seen. The fact is, however, should he never play a significant role in USMNT’s net, in a match other than a friendly, he has gone out the proper way – and no one can debate the class he has shown is above and beyond that exhibited by Donovan.
Timmy took some lessons from the “Landon Donovan Playbook” in terms of what not to do when a USMNT player decides he needs to take some time off.
In contrast to Landon – who ran off and become one with nature and the locals – Timmy’s sabbatical is a shrewd move. Whether you call it semi-retirement, or a hall pass, Timmy now “owns the soccer conversation” by formally announcing his desire to take some time off from USMNT. It’s a smart move for several reasons.
First, his sabbatical will allow him time to help preserve his body from unnecessary knocks in semi-meaningless friendlies. As an England based keeper, there will be less travel and recovery issues on his aging body.
Timmy has lost some of his quickness, notwithstanding his many saves during the World Cup. As a supporter of USMNT, I’ve been quick to criticize Timmy when other people say “there was nothing he could have done on that save, the defense let him down again.” True, the defense had its lapses, but no defender pushed Timmy onto his tush on the first Portugal goal or silenced him when he should have yelled at Cameron to mark his man.
His sabbatical may let him play the role of “hero” by having to fight back for his position. If he makes it back, he’s a genius, and if he doesn’t he’ll still be famous for the 15 or 16 saves (who’s counting?) that made him a legend overnight.
Here’s what I think is really behind Timmy’s sabbatical – he wants to free himself up to promote his BPL telecasts and a future book tour. He can’t effectively do that with a busy USMNT schedule. Lastly, he wants to be famous, design clothes and make bracelets for his soccer pals.
I can’t criticize the man for looking after himself, but at the end of the day, this sabbatical is all about Timmy, and making the most of his hero image. Since I don’t see any compelling need for Timmy to “take time off”, I think he should just retire from USMNT and ride off into the sunset.
Back to Landon. His sabbatical is a different situation altogether. He’s his own worst enemy.
In contrast to Timmy’s bravado-stoked, post-world cup media blitz, Landon needed to take time off. He was burnt out from being USA’s poster boy. Leading the team, game after game, took a lot out of him. Timmy on the other hand only to come up with a few so-called “miracle” saves to be given god-like status.
Unfortunately, Landon’s biggest mistake was to forget that anyone with a camera phone can bust you for an off-the-field dalliance.
If Landon had spun his sojourn with proper media handling, he could have been praised for running off to clear his head. Instead, he went AWOL and Jurgen never forgave him.
With Timmy, this is a calculated move, made after several meetings with his agents. As for Landon, you can just imagine Ari from Entourage yelling at Landon for failing to properly work the media. In contrast, I see Timmy’s agents (plural) opening Cristal when new fans started making clever images of Timmy saving everything and anything (except the goals that he let in).
Kudos to Landon for learning his lesson. I will happily watch him shill for products before I accept Timmy doing the same. I don’t need to buy skinny jeans and neither does 99% percent of the male population.
Follow @OTFSoccer for updates on all the analysis, insight and fluff you can handle
To join the next roundtable, hit up OTF’s USMNT editor, Austin Fido @canetop.