Of the 18 players named to the U.S. roster to face Poland Wednesday in Krakow (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel), perhaps the most obvious selection is the one who should have been omitted:
He's one of three MLS players who must fly back to be with their MLS teams for matches on opening weekend;
But it's not the inevitable jet lag and fatigue, nor possible injury, that should have prompted U.S. coach
And that's why Bradley should have taken this chance to leave him behind, to once again force other players to take the staggering burdens so often shouldered by Donovan, to give
Every match, be it friendly or competitive, is a chance to win, of course, and no coach wants to lessen his team's chances to come out ahead. Yet with another daunting summer at hand, a gauntlet of World Cup qualifiers and the Olympic Games, not to mention three more tough friendlies -- England, Spain, Argentina -- in the spring, the cause is better served by testing others under pressure rather than relying on the known quantity.
Donovan is criticized for cruising through MLS matches and turning it on just long enough to scrape out a result; maybe it's over-reliance on Donovan that partially explains why Los Angeles hasn't reached the playoffs since 2005 despite Donovan's production.
In the last two seasons, his stats are 20 goals and 21 assists in 49 games. No Americans have matched those numbers in back-to-back seasons that included a World Cup year since
Over-reliance on one player and laxity aren't likely under the searing scrutiny of Bradley, and it must be said last fall in Basel and Johannesburg, the Americans came home with 1-0 wins over Switzerland and South Africa sans Donovan. Bradley's choices are limited by the Poland match falling just three days after the conclusion of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying play.
Yet any chance to battle for results without Donovan should be taken for two reasons: a) Inspiration and determination are extracted under duress from other players, and b) at some point, he's bound to suffer a injury that will sideline him for a few weeks or months, and if that absence falls during a run of qualifiers, for example, his teammates need to be readier than they are now.
Never mind Mexico in the Azteca; Guatemala in Estadio Mateo Flores is nasty enough. There's little fear of not qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, but as the U.S. so depressingly showed two years ago in Germany, it's desperately short on game-breakers if Donovan and
It's seemingly illogical to leave home your best player and face a rugged European opponent on the road without him. But in this case, the logic of illogic applies, for there are greater needs than a result against Poland, and the more players put under the cosh, as the English say, the better, be they in MLS or Euro-based.