This week saw the shocking omission of Landon Donovan from the 23-man, US World Cup roster. Many considered Donovan to be a lock for the national team’s trip to Brazil. After all, he’s one of the few Americans with World Cup experience and he still has something left in the tank.
But for weeks, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann insisted that Donovan was not guaranteed to make the final cut. And while some saw this as merely coach speak meant to inspire everybody to work hard, it’s clear now that the German wasn’t bluffing.
Klinsmann could’ve waited until the June 2nd FIFA deadline to make the final cuts. However, he chose to cut the final seven players now, rather than wait. Donovan was joined by Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, Terrence Boyd, Joe Corona, Maurice Edu and Michael Parkhurst. Klinsmann spoke about his decision to trim the roster as soon as possible by saying:
It is an exciting moment when you have narrowed the roster down as a coaching staff. These 23 players you have chosen can now focus purely on Brazil. We can go into more specific things about technical approaches and about the opponents. For the players, it is very important to know that they are now part of it and they can relax and know they are going to Brazil. After 10 days [in camp], we thought the point had come to make that decision.
Okay, so this explains why he got rid of the final seven players already. However, there’s still the issue of why he decided to include Donovan among them.
Some fans are outraged by the Los Angeles Galaxy forward being given a pink slip. One only has to look at the stats to realize the impact that he’s made, scoring 57 goals in 156 international appearances and delivering 58 assists – both clear-and-away American records. Beyond the stats, Donovan has provided some electrifying moments for Team USA, such as when his energy and speed helped push the US into the Quarterfinals in 2002. Just four years ago, he provided a last-minute goal against Algeria in group play, which was the boost that America needed to reach the knockout round.
Given everything we’ve just discussed, it’s no surprise that many have questioned Klinsmann’s decision. Bruce Arena, who coached the 2002 and 2006 US World Cup teams, and currently coaches Donovan on the Galaxy, said, “If there are 23 better players than Landon, then we have a chance to win the World Cup.” Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl expressed his opinion by writing, “Cutting Landon Donovan will prove to be a mistake.”
Many fans have chimed in, questioning the selection of youngsters like Julian Green (18), DeAndre Yedlin (20) and John Brooks (21). USA fanatics also questioned Brad Davis’ inclusion, noting that he’s 32 – the same age as Donovan – yet his 14 caps are nowhere near Landon’s 156 international appearances.
So what reasoning did Klinsmann offer to quiet the natives? Well, he didn’t really provide much of a reason at all behind leaving Donovan off the team. What he did say was that other players were “a tiny little bit ahead of him.” Klinsmann also made vague references to Donovan no longer having the exceptional speed or unparalleled one-on-one skills that he once possessed.
More so than his diminished skills – which are still good enough to be one of America’s top 23 players – what kept Donovan off the US roster was his motivation in recent years. In 2012, he publicly questioned whether or not he wanted to be on the Cup team in Brazil. Then Donovan took a sabbatical overseas, which included a lengthy stop in Cambodia where he found himself and regained the motivation to play soccer.
Unfortunately, he also missed two months of the Major League Soccer season and some time with Team USA during this sabbatical. Klinsmann dropped him from the international squad for a while and made Donovan earn his spot back. Once this happened, it seemed like Landon was rejuvenated and focused on Brazil.
But earlier this year, there were already more rumors about whether or not Donovan was 100% into soccer. Furthermore, his conditioning and drive were publicly called into question by Klinsmann in an attempt to get the forward back on track. In the end, though, it seems as if the coach came to the conclusion that Donovan’s heart just wasn’t as into the game anymore. This, coupled with Landon’s aging skills and physical attributes, were enough to leave him off the World Cup roster.