NATAL, Brazil – Once the shock and anger finally subsided, the American soccer public took a deep breath and began to cope with the unthinkable: Landon Donovan, the U.S.'s all-time leading scorer and America's hero at the 2010 World Cup, would not be going to Brazil.
The coach built this American squad around that attacking triumvirate to shoulder the goal-scoring burden, and if all goes as planned, quickly make everyone forget that Donovan isn't on the team (well, at least when they're not watching him analyze the U.S.'s performances on TV).
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Now, the pressing question is whether the U.S. will actually miss Donovan. The honest reply is best summed up with a shrug. Because no one knows if the Americans will be at a loss without Donovan until they play a full 90 minutes in Natal, Manaus and Recife.
Klinsmann is banking on someone to raise their game and make their mark at this World Cup or, as he put it last week in a rallying cry of sorts, "prove they are ready for the next level or next two levels in their careers."
Donovan, had he been chosen to make the trip to Brazil, wouldn't have been in the starting XI. He likely would have come off the bench as a late-game substitution to do one thing and one thing only: get the U.S. a goal when it needed it most.
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So, with that substitute's role in mind, who could realistically fill the shoes of Donovan? Here are the four candidates.
If the U.S. is desperate to score late, Klinsmann will throw on this 23-year-old forward who was born in Mobile, Ala., but grew up in Iceland. Johannsson brings the versatility of playing as a winger or lining up as a striker. He also offers some of the pace that Donovan would've provided, especially the acceleration to dart past defenders.
Johannsson's biggest asset, though, is his sniper skills. They were on full display last season for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar as he bagged 21 goals in all competitions in his first season as first-choice striker. AZ's previous front man? Altidore, who scored 27 goals in 2012-13, the most-ever for an American in Europe.
2. Mix Diskerud
The 23-year-old midfielder will probably be the first one Klinsmann calls if the U.S. is trailing in the second half and needs an offensive spark.
One of the team's few players who possess the passing skills to create opportunities for others, Diskerud would slide into central midfield bumping Dempsey up front to join Altidore (provided they didn't start in a two-striker formation). He is perfectly capable of finding the net himself, as evidenced by his 75th-minute goal in the Americans' first pre-World Cup friendly, a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan.
Diskerud wears No. 10, the traditional number that goes to the best playmaker. It's also the number that Donovan used to wear.
Watch Diskerud's goal against Azerbaijan here:
The MLS All-Star is really the one who took Donovan's spot, not 19-year-old German-American Julian Green, if you go by Klinsmann's position breakdown for the 30-man training camp roster.
One of six forwards selected, including Donovan, Wondolowski won the fourth and final spot due to his hot streak in a national team shirt, scoring twice in a 2-0 friendly win over South Korea in February and once in a 2-2 friendly draw with Mexico in April.
Wondolowski is your classic goal-poacher who relies more on positioning and foresight. But judging by his performances in the pre-World Cup friendlies, the San Jose Earthquakes star will have to regain his scoring touch. He looked lackluster as the second forward paired with Altidore against Azerbaijan.
4. Julian Green
Few expect Green to actually play in this World Cup, but if he does, he will almost assuredly come on as a last-minute roll of the dice by Klinsmann.
The Bayern Munich product has the speed to expose the tired legs of defenders in a match's waning moments. With the U.S. playing in hot and humid conditions in Brazil's northeast and Amazon regions, that option shouldn't be underestimated. Also, Green has the penchant for winning penalties.
As the youngest of 17 World Cup rookies on the American squad, Green has been busy asking questions and receiving advice from the veterans, namely Altidore.
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"When you're in a new team, it's always hard to get in," Green said at training last week in Sao Paulo. "But right now I'm in the team and everyone wants to help me."
The commotion over Donovan not being here has died down, but that didn’t stop a Brazilian journalist at Sunday's press conference at Arena das Dunas from asking Klinsmann why he did not select Donovan.
"Others were ahead of him," he replied with no other explanation.
Klinsmann had better hope that the U.S. doesn't struggle to score. Otherwise, he'll be asked that same question over and over again – by the media and U.S. supporters alike.
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