The U.S. Mens National Team final roster for the World Cup was announced Thursday. Our standout defender Omar Gonzalez made the cut. Unfortunately, Landon Donovan did not make it into that final list of 23 players. Like many fans of U.S. soccer, I am outraged. This player is the face of U.S. soccer. This player made World Cup soccer interesting to a wider American audience. This player was going to be in a record fourth World Cup for a U.S. player.
Talk about risks, Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to keep Landon Donovan out of that final roster is a mistake. Not even because of the outcry he’s causing with fans but because he’s taking out a player who has scored 5 World Cup goals out of 12 World Cup games. He is U.S. soccer’s all time leader with 57 goals, 57 assists, and 156 Caps. Donovan is the one who scored a goal in the 91st minute of a game that we were convinced was done back in 2010. My question for the Grim Reaper (Klinsmann) is what about this player wasn’t right for the 2014 U.S. National Team headed to Brazil?
This is certainly one of the toughest decisions – the toughest decision in my coaching career – to tell a player like him with everything he’s done and what he represents, to tell him that you’re not part of those 23 right now because I just see some other players slightly ahead of him.
Klinsmann and Donovan have a long and rocky history beginning from the time the former German National team star was the head coach at Bayern Munich. Klinsmann took Donovan on loan after watching him closely with the Galaxy for years against the conventional wisdom of those in Germany. American stars have never been well respected in Europe, and this was no different for the Bavarian giants and their legion of fans. Donovan’s loan spell didn’t work out and Klinsmann was replaced shortly thereafter, for a variety of reasons which included differing opinions with Bayern’s board of directors. The nails in Donovan’s USMNT coffin were firmly struck when he took a personal sabbatical in early 2013. This seemed to clinch it for Klinsmann as Donovan had to work his way back into the picture rather than being welcomed back, as he was with the Galaxy. When Landon finally made it back into the picture yet left out of the starting lineup for a World Cup warm up, Klinsmann brushed aside criticism by stating that Donovan hadn’t been great during practices. Albeit, fans of Donovan are probably the first to agree and say Donovan hasn’t been as electric as we’re used to, and his goal scoring touch has gone missing for months. This doesn’t justify leaving Donovan behind as his experience and creativity are qualities that wont be matched by anyone on the roster that will play in Brazil.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena agreed with Klinsmann that the decision was difficult but overall supported Landon. He said “Do I think Landon belongs on the team? I do. But, Jurgen has his own reasons and I respect that. I know these things aren’t easy.” It’s important to consider that Bruce will unexpectedly gain an important player back into his team for the better part of two months, so his ability to subjectively consider the matter is tainted with bias.
The arguments in Jurgen’s favor include priming newer players and paving the way for a new age of U.S. soccer. However, I would argue we owe Landon, for being such a valuable player in the past, the respect of keeping him on the team. I would also greedily add that he still owes us some great moments. It’s a broken deal thanks to some personal differences and flimsy logic.
The 32-year old player is arguably the best player U.S. soccer has ever had, and still close enough to his prime that he would be a valuable addition to most teams. He is one MLS goal away from breaking the record for most regular-season goals. He still had a lot to offer to the 2014 World Cup team in Brazil, even if it was in a substitute role.
Donovan responded to the news that shocked fans via Facebook, like the class act that he is.
The way the U.S. performs in the group stage will likely lead many fans back to Klinsmann’s decision to leave Donovan out, especially if scoring goals is a problem. Would the team be stronger? Could there have be more opportunities? Should he have brought Landon to Brazil? Yes, I can answer that now, he should have. I, and surely all U.S. fans, still hope for a great World Cup but being drawn into the group of death in the first round and now sans Landon Donovan, we may be scrambling toward a short-lived Brazilian Carnival.
2014 United States FIFA World Cup roster:
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)