More than a month after being cut from the United States men’s national team in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, Landon Donovan keeps casting his long shadow over the team.
His ouster from the United States was controversial and largely inexplicable and remains both of those things now. The relationship between head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and American soccer’s golden boy has always been complicated. But the German manager has seemed to be vindicated in making this strange choice by the unexpected success the USA has had here in Brazil in getting out of the Group of Death with a series of scrappy results.
In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, however, Donovan was quoted as saying he had rooted against the USA right after his May 21 ostracizing from the team. "I’ll be completely honest," he told LA Times reporter Bill Plaschke. "Watching them play [in their first of three World Cup tune-up game against] Azerbaijan, inside, part of me was thinking, I hope the game doesn’t go very well today."
"In my heart of hearts," Donovan continued, "I thought, if we get a 1-0 win and the team doesn’t perform well, that would feel good."
The quote was typical Donovan: Disarmingly open and honest yet also crafted in a careful and cunning way. The spurned lover seeks revenge. But then, inevitably, he reports an epiphany that makes him look like the good guy after all, like the bigger person. "Then the next day I woke up and said to myself, that’s a really crappy way to feel," Donovan told the LATimes. "That’s a bad way to live your life, it doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help the team, it doesn’t help the energy that the team needs."
Again, classic Donovan, to bring the conversation back to being centered and positive energies and other yoga-like terms. "I love playing for that team, I love playing for this country, I’m not going to turn my back on them all of a sudden," Donovan finally said.
Except that he sort of did, by his own admission. At least for a little while.
From a disgruntled former employee, which is what Donovan ultimately is, these sentiments aren’t terribly surprising, of course. They are striking to have come out of the mouth of a professional athlete, however. Especially when you consider that his role with that team could not yet be over.
Following Klinsmann’s dismissal of Donovan, the coach was asked if he thought the latter had any future with his team in the next World Cup cycle. Klinsmann indicated that he hoped that Donovan would remain available. The question is very much whether Donovan feels the same.
He had practically said, between the lines, that his motivational issues — one of the things creating the friction between himself and Klinsmann — made his long-term picture cloudy. It seemed for all the world like this would be his last World Cup anyway.
By admitting so openly in such a public form, which he knew would carry his messages out to the very edges of the American soccer world, that he isn’t so enamored with the national team and its fortunes anymore, seems tantamount to Donovan abdicating any future role on the team.
Or it’s just Landon being Landon, a player too honest for his own good, who says things that not everybody would like to hear, which may well be the reason he isn’t on the team right now in the first place. And might never be again.