The under-fire U.S. men’s national team meets Canada on Friday night in a CONCACAF Nations League game in Orlando (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, TUDN, Unimas), and there is real pressure on the Americans to win after last month’s 2-0 loss at Canada—the first time Canada had beaten the U.S. in 34 years.
On the latest Planet Fútbol Podcast, SI.com’s Grant Wahl spoke to Hall of Famer Landon Donovan, who just took a job as a manager and VP of the USL’s San Diego Loyal. Donovan also spoke about his thoughts on the state of the USMNT. Here are the most intriguing quotes from the conversation.
On where the USMNT is right now
Donovan: My thoughts are as follows: We are in a results-based business, but I think it's okay to lose games. How you lose matters, right? And so what I've seen a few times in the last probably four or five games from the U.S. is really ugly performances from the U.S. Eventually it was going to happen that we were going to lose to Canada. Canada is getting better. They're not bad. They're getting better and better. They played very well. You have to give them credit.
The problem is how [the U.S.] lost. I see two sides of it. I understand completely, having spent a few days in camp with the national team last summer, I understand what Gregg and the coaching staff are trying to achieve from a tactical standpoint. I totally get it. That's going to take time, and I do think that will come to fruition. My problem is when I watch the Canada game, for example, I don't see them competing.
I don't want to say they don't care, but sometimes it looks like they're not that worried if they lose. And this is your national team. I mean, it hurt bad every time we lost. And it should. It should matter to you. And I didn't get that sense. And that part bothers me, because you can do the tactical piece, you can be good technically, but if you can't compete and really get after it for your national team, that's a problem. And I don't know if that's a coaching staff issue, I don't know if it's the players. I mean, the players at some point have to do it, right? It’s their job. So that's the part that bothers me. So if that doesn't change, that's concerning.
On the USMNT not being hard to play against since the latter half of the Jurgen Klinsmann tenure
Donovan: You said it. That's the perfect phrase, right? I had a coach who passed away, Mooch Myernick, and he used to say before every game, “Be hard to play against.” And if you really take that phrase to its core, there's a lot in there, a lot packed in there. But you don't want the other guy coming off the field going, “that was an easy game.” I think Canada came off the field going, “jeez, that was easier than we thought it would be.” It's a great point and a great phrase.
On why it shouldn’t be mutually exclusive to play with a hard-edged mentality and still play good soccer
Donovan: There have been some games in the past however many where you say, “okay, they didn't get it perfect tactically, they weren't good passing out of the back, they made some mistakes, whatever, but they competed. It was a hard game for the other team. And that's fine.” I think fans are fine with that. As former players, we're fine with that. We know you're not going to win every game, you're not going to be perfect, but you've got to compete. I don't know if it's a generational thing. I don't know if guys have too much fame and money and feel like they’ve made it too early.
I just don't see that real grit from a lot of these players, and I don't know how you create that. Sometimes it's what did you grow up in? When you step on the field, what's inside you that motivates you? Because if you don't have that, the money is not going to motivate guys at this stage of their career. They're all making a lot of money. So what is it inside you that says, I don't want to lose to Canada 2-0? This hurts me. And I'm going to do something about it. And I don't see a lot of that right now.
On whether he has a relationship with any of the guys on the current USMNT, including rising stars Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams
Donovan: Yeah. With some of them, yeah. Obviously the older guys, because I’m old. I don't have close relationships with those [young] guys. In fairness to those three that you just mentioned, I think they do bring it. I think they bring it every time they’re on the field. Christian certainly does. Weston I think does. Tyler absolutely does. Some of the other guys, I haven't seen as much of that from. And that's a little worrisome. Some of the guys, I get the sense that they almost can't believe that they're there. Like, I can't believe I'm playing for my national team. And they don't always play that tentatively with their club teams, but for some reason around the national team you see that a little bit. And I'd like to see that change.
Check out SI’s Planet Fútbol Podcast for an in-depth interview with Donovan about why he decided to become San Diego’s manager and his candid thoughts on the state of the U.S. men’s national team.