The United States will have to head into this week's crucial World Cup qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala without Landon Donovan and Brek Shea. Both midfielders had to withdraw from the team for the matches after being evaluated by the U.S. Soccer medical staff on Tuesday and having it determined that neither was fit enough.
Donovan injured his knee on Saturday night and his status for the qualifiers was immediately called into question. His inclusion on Monday's initial roster seemed to indicate that the injury was not as bad as first feared, but that obviously is not true.
Shea has been battling injuries for a long time. He first suffered a turf toe injury and that triggered a host of other ailments, including an abdominal strain that has kept him out of the FC Dallas team since September 29 and will not keep him out of the qualifiers.
"It’s unfortunate for Landon and Brek that they won’t be able to play," Jurgen Klinsmann said. "Landon was very optimistic over the weekend when his knee was feeling much better, but now he needs time to recover. We knew Brek was a question mark coming in, and now we have a clear picture of where he stands. We feel confident that the group we have will get the job done."
No replacements have been named to the team and none are expected. Klinsmann knew that both were battling injuries and called in a 24 players as a result. He had the players he would turn to in the event that Donovan and Shea could not go already on the team.
The reality is that as much as the U.S. would like to have a completely fit team, it is rare that any international team gets that. The Americans experienced it in the last series of qualifiers when Michael Bradley was out with an injury and their opponents, Jamaica, were without Demar Phillips.
Without Donovan, the U.S. could go with three central midfielders and play them all centrally, as opposed to pushing someone like Danny Williams out to the right. Clint Dempsey could then play underneath two strikers.
Another option is to play Graham Zusi and Sacha Kljestan out wide, both of whom would pinch in some, but have experience in those roles. Joe Corona is a more radical option considering his lack of international experience, but he has been very good for Xolos.
The U.S. is still in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying and while they did not want to have meaningful matches on the last two match days, they are against Antigua and Barbuda and home to Guatemala. Neither of those opponents should concern them, and certainly not when the tougher of the two is at home. Even without Donovan and Shea, the Americans should have no problem getting the results they need to advance and if they cannot then the team's problems are much bigger than a couple injuries.