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May 31, 2007

Player unsure about participation
By Andrea Canales, Associate Editor

Landon Donovan would like to help the Galaxy earn points this summer.
Landon Donovan would like to help the Galaxy earn points this summer.
Photo by Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
A clash could be brewing between star player Landon Donovan and new national team coach Bob Bradley over the Copa America. For a while, Donovan has expressed his preference to play in only one tournament this summer, while Bradley would like Donovan to take part in both.

Very rare are the situations where the U.S. national team camp opens without Landon Donovan participating, yet that was the case this week. The U.S. player, who has more appearances in the past four years for the national team than any other American, was present at the Home Depot Center, but for practices with his struggling club team, the Los Angeles Galaxy.

He only glimpsed a little of the national team action while passing by.

“I drove up, I saw Bob (Bradley) and Peter (Nowak) walking out there,” said Donovan after a recent Galaxy practice session. “I had totally forgotten they were training today.”

Donovan is not usually on the sidelines when the national team is in action.

“It is a little weird,” Donovan admitted of having the U.S. team practice nearby without him, “but it is what it is.”

Except for Chivas USA, however, all Major League Soccer players are remaining with their club teams for the China friendly.

The bigger question that looms for Donovan is whether he will participate in this summer’s Copa America.

Some players, like up-and-coming defender Jay DeMerit, were eagerly awaiting that opportunity.

“[Bradley and I] haven’t had a conversation about it yet, but I think he’s on the range of giving players a choice,” said DeMerit. “I’ve had a break, so if I do get asked, and just for my experience alone, because I’ve come in late, I would like to play both.”

Yet because MLS runs on a different schedule than Europe, the Copa America does not fall into the league break, but instead takes place right in the midst of a number of games.

In addition, Bradley denied that players he would like to participate would be asked if they wanted to join the Copa America squad.

“No,” Bradley declared. “It’s the national team. We don’t ask for a show of hands of who wants to go. It’s an honor and we have a responsibility. We understand that in different situations, we have to consider different factors, but no, we’re not asking who wants to go.”

In fact, Bradley has already given Donovan his marching orders for the tournament.

“We spoke briefly,” Donovan explained. “He definitely wants me to go to both. He made that very clear.”

What isn’t clear, however, is whether that will happen. Donovan is still hesitant, though a choice is imminent.

“I told [Bradley] how I feel and I told him I’d give it a little bit of thought,” Donovan explained. “By the end of this week, I want to come up with a decision that we’re both fine with and just get it over so I’m not worrying about Gold Cup, so we know what’s going on and we can get on with it.”

Bradley has indicated that around eight or twelve players could participate in both Gold Cup and Copa America, with both MLS and European players involved. Though top choice teams for the U.S. usually skew higher towards European starters, splitting the difference between the two elements yields an estimation of five MLS players involved in both tournaments.

Though many MLS teams are affected by callups during the Gold Cup, the U.S. and Mexico are the only CONCACAF nations participating, via invitation, in the Copa America. The prestigious competition pits many of the top South American teams for the title of the region’s best.

Despite the tournament’s history, though, some top players for those South American teams have opted not to take part. Brazil’s Ronaldinho and Kaka, for example, have both asked leave of their federation from the tournament, citing fatigue from the long European season.

Yet Donovan is hoping to play during the Copa America, but for his club team, which depends heavily on his performances.

Donovan admitted that it would be easier to sign on to the tournament if the Galaxy’s situation were not so dire. The squad has only won once this season and is on track to being nearly eliminated from the playoffs even before David Beckham arrives as a reinforcement.

“It would make it easier, certainly [if the Galaxy’s record was stronger],” conceded Donovan. “That plays into it.”

The Galaxy carry five points on the season, as injuries and a strange schedule, where they played very few games at the start and struggled to stay match fit, took a toll.

Though he was unsure as to the consequences that could result from the choice to defy the Copa America summons, Donovan seemed willing to take that chance.

“I’m still leaning towards not wanting to go,” Donovan said. “I don’t know what the rules are or if they can make me go or carry me on the plane.”

Donovan’s national team predecessor in the number ten shirt, Claudio Reyna, chose to remain with his club team through nearly the entire World Cup qualifying campaign, though then-coach Bruce Arena was unhappy with the decision.

However, Arena welcomed Reyna back to the squad in 2006, and Reyna captained the U.S. in the World Cup.

Bradley wouldn’t give details on how he would respond if Donovan asked out of playing in the Copa America.

“It’s an impossible question to answer,” Bradley declared.

However, he pointed out that the national team has been an avenue to success for many U.S. players.

“We’ve tried to make sure that everybody remembers how important it is to be ready to play for the national team and what an honor it is,” Bradley noted. “Most guys wouldn’t be where they’re at in their careers if it hadn’t been for the opportunities that they’ve had with the national team. I think it’s important to make sure that they remember that.”

Despite the displeasure that refusing the Copa America might cause in Donovan’s new coach, Donovan was hopeful that a resolution could be reached.

“I don’t want it to be a bad thing,” attested Donovan. “It’s not that I don’t want to go, that I don’t want to play, but especially now, I need to be here [with the Galaxy].”
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