Landon Donovan was not included on the 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, upheld his decision to cut the player and referred to a rift that had formed between he and Donovan last year after the powerhouse midfielder took four months off at the beginning of the World Cup qualifiers. Klinsmann questioned Donovan’s fitness following the event, and his absence from the roster released yesterday confirmed that the coach’s reservations were still in place.
Arguable from Klinsmann’s standpoint, as a result of Donovan’s hiatus his club play was not up to par. However that overlooks the player’s phenomenal Gold Cup performance that immediately followed his return. Regardless, it became apparent that Klinsmann was thinking of Donovan up top as a forward and not in the midfield, which begged the question if rookie Julian Green was in fact intended as Donovan’s replacement.
Klinsmann signed a contract extension that will keep him on board through 2018, giving him the opportunity to mold a new squad. The inclusion of some of the younger inexperienced players on the roster is not so shocking in this respect. There are only five veteran World Cup players on the squad this year. Klinsmann was very clear that he was building a squad based on the future, not the past. He also added that Donovan took the news “highly professional.”
Alexi Lalas said in an interview that the decision not to include a player like Landon Donovan on the World Cup roster epitomizes the fact that these decisions are not always merit based. Jumping on the wagon that pits Donovan against Green, Lalas argued that the 18-year-old rookie to world play has done nothing to warrant a spot on the roster. Others, however, focus on the comparison of Donovan’s pre and post hiatus statistics and are less convinced of his value for Brazil.
In a press conference this morning, Klinsmann responded to questions regarding the Donovan-less roster. The coach assured the press that the decision was in fact merit based and explained that Donovan was outshone by some of the younger players. “We feel like the other players, without naming any of them, are a tiny little bit ahead of him (Donovan),” he continued.
The question remains whether the decision to leave Donovan behind was a purely footballing decision or one better classified as a personal decision based on a disconnect between coach and player. Within good reason it might be a combination of the two. Despite the reasons, the U.S. will go into Brazil without one of its most successful footballers. Player for player, Landon Donovan is hard to sit out, but unease about his recent performance has been widespread. Brazil may prove itself to be a good venue to test out a new chapter in U.S. men’s soccer. The experience that the younger players need will find its calling on the pitch. The decision was inevitable, but still difficult to stomach as the U.S. is set to face the “death group” mid-June. Landon Donovan will remain on stand-by in case one of the 23 on the U.S. roster is injured.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson