Klinsmann jolts squad by excluding Donovan from World Cup roster
MAY 22, 2014 7:01p ET
United States men's national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann always promised a surprise or two with his World Cup roster. He approaches his duties with his own unique perspective. He assembles his squads with an expansive mindset. He shuns convention. He thinks well outside the box.
Few people expected him to spring this sort of country-shaking, mind-blowing shock, though. Klinsmann revealed his 23-man roster for the World Cup on Thursday afternoon and left Landon Donovan off of it.
Donovan isn't some fringe player operating around the margins or some spent force clinging onto hope in the winter of his career. He is the leading scorer in the history of the United States men's national team. He is on the very short list of the best players to ever wear the red, white and blue. He is still one of the best players in Major League Soccer. And now he is surplus to Klinsmann's requirements.
"It has been an honor and privilege to have represented the US National Team in three World Cups," Donovan said on his official Facebook page late Thursday evening. "I was looking forward to playing in Brazil, as you can imagine, I am very disappointed with today's decision."
By just about every measure, it is a staggering and seemingly imprudent decision. Donovan -- alongside Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard -- represents one of the few players proven under the glare of a World Cup. He delivers time and time again in the biggest game, a fact reinforced by his heroics against Algeria to send the Americans through four years ago. Even at this stage of his career and even if only used as a substitute, he rests comfortably among the best players at Klinsmann's disposal.
It is a bold and risky decision to leave one of the few players of established class out for this arduous World Cup journey. There are no replacements for Donovan in the pool, no players capable of replicating his particular set of skills. Klinsmann -- the same man who brought Donovan to Bayern Munich and who welcomed him back into the fold after his oft-discussed sabbatical last year -- understands his utility. He simply doesn't value him enough anymore to include him on his 23-man list.
The grounds for that sort of judgment encompass far more than his performances during the first week of a World Cup training camp. It is a wider verdict about his perceived place in the pecking order and his usefulness to a side where he might not feature as a certain starter.
Klinsmann offered a glimpse into his thought process surrounding Donovan when he discussed his roster during a conference call last week. He noted his frank exchanges after Donovan returned to the team last year and spoke about how he evaluated his merits every time he linked up with the team.
"For me this is very, very normal, and again, with all the appreciation, with all the admiration for what he's done throughout his career, which is extraordinary and deserves the compliments that he gets, but soccer is about what happens today and what you do today, and what you hopefully do tomorrow," Klinsmann said during a conference call.
The decisions elsewhere in this squad -- the forward-looking inclusions of John Anthony Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin and the instant selections of in-form players like Brad Davis and Chris Wondolowski -- reflect those words. The majority of this group isn't constructed on pedigree. Klinsmann compiled his squad based upon the ability to fill a role now or play a major part in the future somewhere down the line.
Somehow, he didn't see Donovan as a piece capable of helping in the short-term. There are reasons to buttress those observations -- Donovan hasn't scored in seven MLS appearances this season, for example -- if you strain hard enough, but those explanations do not bridge the gap between pondering Donovan's potential influence and leaving him off entirely.
It is down to Klinsmann to explain why he opted to pursue a course without Donovan and thought he could not help the team in some fashion moving forward. He is expected to address the media on Friday to delve into the topic then and provide some justification for a decision that -- on its face, at least -- is barely justifiable.
Expect him to laud Donovan for his past achievements and question whether he could reach those heights again in a few weeks' time. He will undoubtedly field inquiries about the personal relationship between the parties and the possibility of a personality conflict. And he will almost certainly focus on how the decision to leave out Donovan will make the collective group a stronger unit, a point he made last week before the camp started.
"I mention it also very often that we're not building the group based on the past, we're building the group based on what we experience and go through together and what we believe, and as of today, is the right decision," Klinsmann said last week. "It's what we're also going to do three weeks from now after the Turkey game when we have to name 23 players. It's going to be about what we believe in as of June 2, 2014. We need to feel good about that and convinced about that. That's how we look at it."
Klinsmann viewed his squad through that prism and chose to leave Donovan out of his World Cup. It is his roster and he can do as he pleases with it, but there will come a time when he needs a spark -- a moment of inspiration, a timely contribution -- to push his side through this Group of Death. And then he will survey his options and wonder why he left one of the few players capable of providing it at home.