Opinion: Landon Donovan’s absence from the U.S. World Cup squad not made for sporting reasons

Landon Donovan’s stunning exclusion from the U.S. World cup squad has nothing to do with soccer.

It’s about power and control.

To assert his dominance over the squad, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann needed to get rid of the most influential, the most creative, the most talented player the U.S. has ever seen. So he did.

Read between the lines in the various reports summarizing the relationship between Donovan and Klinsmann and it’s clear it was not healthy.

Klinsmann wasn’t impressed by the central figure in his team thumbing his nose at the sport, the national team and the American soccer establishment by taking a sabbatical Donovan had described as necessary for his mental health.

He was unimpressed with the contained, reserved Donovan he believed failed to visibly display the fire the sideline-cheering Klinsmann wanted to see.

And Klinsmann wanted his own man captaining the team, not a holdover from previous incarnations.

That’s why the likes of Timmy Chandler, despite his apparent reticence to cast his lot with the U.S. national team, was cajoled to return to its ranks.

And that’s why Donovan, despite maintaining his role as a pivotal figure on the team upon his return, had to produce blinding displays (see above) to demonstrate his worth to a coach clearly looking for reasons to cut him.

This was a political decision, not a sporting one. And Klinsmann knows it.

Which is why he doesn’t speak directly to the media, but instead has a canned statement distributed to various outlets laying out the supposed weak rationale that other players were ahead of Donovan in unspecified ways.

Klinsmann recently said he didn’t consider Donovan a midfielder, but a forward.

Which is a handy way of providing a justifiable backdrop to his decision. Thirty-something forwards are not exactly in the prime of their international careers, while midfielders still can be.

This kind of political maneuvering is one reason Donovan needed a break from the national team. And why he may not return even if Klinsmann asks because of injury issues to players who were picked to go to Brazil. And why Donovan may well be so sick of the entire thing I wouldn’t be surprised to see him walk away from the sport and hang up his cleats at the end of the season.

The U.S. chances of progressing beyond the group stage in Brazil was already a long shot with him in the team. Now that opportunity seems even less likely.

Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer may well know that and have an eye on 2018 so this tournament can provide experience for younger players who unlike Donovan will be around four years from now.

But they underestimate public opinion and expectations at their peril.

The American public hasn’t given up on the U.S. Nor have they given up on Donovan.

As for Klinsmann, he had better see progress both in results and the quality of the product on the field.

Because he hasn’t yet earned the right to see some slack cut for himself.

And without measurable, perceptible improvement, American soccer fans may well give up quickly on him and everything U.S. Soccer officials believed they could achieve with a coach who may know the sport, but doesn’t comprehend the respect or loyalty a figure like Donovan should command.

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  • bardgal

    This.

  • Bill

    Perfect article inside out. The U.S. public is watching and everyone understands when the heart and soul of the team was ripped out. And when they are being manipulated. Thank you for vocalizing this

  • EllisCarver

    This is hilarious. You can’t be serious with an article like this. Donovan is not the player he once was. Sorry to break your heart.

    • Mikey

      but he is still the best you have. and the most experience and the person responsible for the recent success of the US. Its very clear Donovan is very influential with all the noob going into their first WC. hopes this new generation players show the character donovan would have shown and get a result.

      • EllisCarver

        No he’s not. He hasn’t been the best player for quite a while. That honor goes to Michael Bradley now. People like the writer of the article need to stop living in the past. I think people put too much value in experience and not enough into form and fitness. Donovan’s been in poor form for the last few months now.

        • doorworker

          So true. And in-form Julian Green, Yedlin, and Brooks will no doubt prove yr point with dominating performances vs Ghana. No doubt at all.

          To ask fans to swallow the burning of a hard earned WC appearance on the altar of improved 2018 chances…it’s a joke. Importing the nothing-to-do-with-sport cynicism of world soccer plutocrats into the US system is not progress.

          • doorworker

            #FireGulati

          • EllisCarver

            Donovan doesn’t bring us any closer to getting out of the group. Donovan’s days of glory are over and the three players you named (two of whom probably won’t play, but no matter) were probably outperforming Donovan in practice. Sorry to rain on your parade.

          • kzillathathrilla

            He does bring us closer to getting out of the group. He knows what it means to play (and win) in a World Cup, something you and Julian Green both know nothing about. That’s why even if he doesn’t play a minute it’s still better if he’s there, on the bench.

          • EllisCarver

            He knows how to play in a World Cup? What does that even mean? For the record, if we’re riding the experience narrative, this is DeMarcus Beasley’s 4th World Cup. More than Donovan’s three.

    • Inigo Montoya

      Watch the video, dude. That’s what everybody said before the Gold Cup.

      • EllisCarver

        Do you understand the difference between Jamaica and Germany? Between Adrian Mariappa and Philip Lahm, the world’s best right back? This is not the Gold Cup.

        • Inigo Montoya

          You’re right, of course. I’m stupid and know nothing about soccer. Great argument.

          Take a breath. In the grand scheme of things, none of this discussion means anything. It is what it is. There’s no way to test any of the arguments we’re making. Those of us who are fans of LD are disappointed, and you insist on being a jerk about it. Whatever.

          Klinsmann made his choices. Now we’ll watch the soccer.

    • kario

      I agree. Klinsman has to pick players that are “hungry” and Donovan has been pretty non-chalant. He even admitted himself that his body breaks down and he can’t play as long. He needs to stop whining.

  • Mike

    Well this is quite a bit of homerism, with an LA writer going all weak-kneed for an LA player. 95% of Americans have no idea who Landon Donovan is, and the remaining 5% (present company excluded) recognize he isn’t the player he used to be. How many goals has he scored for the Galaxy this season?

  • Inigo Montoya

    The other side of the coin is that LD may not be hurt at all by this. His “classy” response may be what he really thinks.

    If Klinsmann had chosen him, LD would have played his heart out for the team and the shirt. But LD knows he doesn’t have anything to prove to anybody, and Klinsmann dropping him doesn’t change that. His overwhelming performance in the Gold Cup showed what he could do for the USMNT, even after the “sabbatical.” If Klinsmann doesn’t like it that LD plays his own game, that’s Klinsmann’s problem (and now, the USMNT’s problem).

    It’s not LD’s problem. The Galaxy and their fans will welcome him back.

  • Kubah

    At the end of the day, Landon could have performed and forced his way on the team. If LD had 5-8 goals in the MLS this is not an issue and he has a ticket. Instead he tried to make a late run to get into form and fell short. Nothing in life is a given… sometimes you have to take it.

    • Inigo Montoya

      Exactly. Well said.

      And LD is taking it.

  • Bill A

    Mr. Green, don’t assume to speak for everyone. I probably would have preferred LD being in the squad and I think he could have been effective in a role off the bench. But he was never guaranteed a place if being judged only on recent form and fitness, which is what matters. It is hardly a reckless decision to keep him out and I’m not personally going to call for JK to persecuted if they go out early in Brazil. That was probably happening in this group anyway.

  • Soccertaxi

    As much as I’d like to see LD included, I can’t say I agree with this article. Did you see LD without his shirt in the last USMNT game? He has a gut and he was definitely looking winded by the end. I’ve seen LD a few times with Galaxy, here in San Jose and really hoped to be impressed, but wasn’t. Recently, Kyle Beckerman impressed me much more than Donovan. If Donovan was in his previous form of a couple years ago, or more, I would agree with this, but for now, I chalk this article up to hurt feelings…

  • studs way way up

    All you Klinsmann haters relax a bit. This is all a staged show for the last minute re-infusion of Donovan into the squad on the way to Brasil. This is his way of injecting some life into a listless and characterless bunch of newbies masquerading as the USMNT.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    To those who criticize the column: Nick is right, for reasons that have nothing to do with Donovan. What does that mean? Well, Omar Gonzalez is now a *worse* player than he was before he played sizable minutes for Klinsmann. Why? Because Klinsmann has destroyed his confidence. Why did Michael Bradley leave AS Roma to sign with Toronto FC? Because Bradley was afraid that Klinsmann would leave him off the national team if he sat on the bench with AS Roma. This is Michael Bradley we’re talking about, Klinsmann’s best field player by far. Why did Onkel Juergen make Clint Dempsey the captain. Because, as OJ said in the ESPN special, he wanted Dempsey to be less selfish as a player. Less selfish? For a striker?

    What does all this have to do with Donovan? Simple. Klinsmann wants good soldiers who know how to “suffer” and not ask questions. He wants players who feel indebted to him and, therefore, won’t question him. Donovan fits neither category. Whatever anyone thinks of Donovan’s play, people must realize that Donovan is a straight shooter who has a pretty good BS detector. So does Bocanegra; that’s why he never saw the light of day after the disastrous game against Honduras in the Hexagonal. So does Herculez Gomez; that’s why he rarely received call-ups.

    Klinsmann is so infatuated with his own ideas and plans that he lives in his own world. He doesn’t see how he has ruined the team’s self-confidence and cohesion on the field. You’ll see that in Brazil; when facing sudden reversals of fortune, the U.S will play with its tail between its legs, just like it did against Mexico in Phoenix and against Ukraine in Cyprus.