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May 22, 2014

Donovan won't be missed in Brazil

Who will step up for the USMNT at the World Cup in Landon Donovan's absence?

The exclusion of Landon Donovan from U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann's 23-man World Cup roster Thursday sent shock waves across the U.S. and around the world. Donovan, the USMNT's all-time leading scorer and assist leader, was expected by most to not only be in Brazil, but to play a major role in what would have been his fourth World Cup.

Instead, Donovan has transitioned from primary attacking option and U.S. team leader to roster casualty within a four-year span, and in his place is, in large part, a group of hungry yet internationally unproven players. 

Now that the 13-time MLS All-Star won't be suiting up for the Americans, who will fill his role on the team? Are they a better roster fit than Donovan at this stage of his career? Moreover, will he be missed in Brazil? Not especially. 

The current version of Donovan was trapped between two possible positions, attacking midfielder and supporting forward, on Klinsmann's 30-man roster. And based on the roles that Donovan likely could have filled in Brazil, along with the depth of the final roster, it appears the United States will not suffer a significant on-field loss without the 32-year-old, who admittedly was struggling to get in shape and find his form.

Here's a closer look at both positions and their outlook sans Donovan.

Attacking midfielder

Although the preliminary roster indicated Donovan would be evaluated as a forward in camp, he has often played an attacking midfield role for Team USA during his tenure. Specifically in the 2010 World Cup, Donovan spent most of his time in an established role creating problems for opponents down the right side. This is a role that Donovan could have potentially reprised given his positioning through 2014 World Cup qualifying, as he demonstrated an ability to play on either the left or right side of the field.

Heat map of Landon Donovan's touches during 2010 World Cup, left, and those from 2014 World Cup qualifying play, right.

With Donovan out of the picture, these attacking roles are now in the hands of players like Alejandro Bedoya, Brad Davis and Graham Zusi, as the U.S. attempts to advance out of a stacked Group G.

Bedoya has not been seen by the public as much as other members of the U.S. team, but his...