(Published by The Philly Soccer Page on May 23, 2014)
Jurgen Klinsmann apparently has no belief that he can get his U.S. national team through group play at the 2014 World Cup.
Rather, with a contract extension comfortably in hand, he appears to be playing for the 2018 tourney.
There is no other logical way to explain Landon Donovan’s omission from the 23-man tournament roster Klinsmann released Thursday night.
No other rational reason, at least. Nothing that doesn’t consist primarily of, “Klinsmann is still mad at Donovan for his sabbatical, and this is how he sends the message to every prospective national teamer that such actions will not be tolerated.”
Klinsmann seemed too smart for that. Seemed.
Instead, the 2014 World Cup has now become for Klinsmann what appears to be an exercise in recruitment and planning for the future. Yes, this is the means through which Klinsmann plans to solidify the recruitment of some young potential future stars. It’s not enough to cap-tie Julian Green and John Brooks (and to a lesser extent, Timmy Chandler). They need a taste of the glory. The German-Americans could be core pieces of the national team for years to come, and this is how Klinsmann is securing it.
But so far, they have shown no indication they are ready for the international stage. Brooks looked like a mess against Ukraine in March. Green looked, well, green in his one appearance with the national team.
Did Klinsmann promise Green a spot on the final roster in exchange for committing to the U.S.? It certainly looks like it, because the Bayern Munich reserve has shown no indication he is ready to play in an actual World Cup against actual World Cup teams like Germany, Portugal or even Ghana. Neither has Brooks. (Chandler, at least, has a better case, due to the team’s question marks at right back. He now projects as a starter.)
You could extrapolate this further to include the choice of Brooks over better veteran alternatives at center back, but those are situations are grayer. The Donovan situation is black and white.
There is no true U.S. best 11 that does not include Donovan. Period, end of story. Even if you dispute that, surely you can’t claim he is not part of the best 23.
I could sit here and lay out a bunch of reasons why, but I don’t need to. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard does it best.
“For me, it’s a very easy equation: If Landon is on the field, he’s our top one or two players,” Howard told MLSsoccer.com.”That’s just my opinion … For me, he’s easily one of our best players and he strikes fear in our opponents.”
You remember Donovan’s heroics in the 2010 World Cup. You saw Donovan in the Gold Cup. You’ve seen him in MLS. (He may have gotten off to a slow start goals-wise this year, but he remains in the league’s top 10 in key passes and crosses, which is where his value lies for the national team.) Nobody needs to tell you what he’s capable of.
And no coach not named Klinsmann would choose Brad Davis over Donovan. Not even Davis’s club coach. Davis’s crossing and set piece ability do not eclipse all that Donovan brings to the table. This aspect of the roster effectively confirms the sentiment that Donovan’s exclusion was a conscious decision intended to send a message.
The U.S. drew the ultimate Group of Death with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, and their chances of getting out of the group never looked good.
But it’s different when I say that as an outsider and when the coach says it with his actions and sends an inferior team to face them.
Klinsmann just gave up on the 2014 World Cup. Not just because he excluded one key player — although that’s a big part of it — but rather because of the message he sent to his entire team. No player is bigger than the team, but right now, Klinsmann certainly is. He didn’t pick the 23 players that give the U.S. team the best chance to win in Brazil.
(Random note: And did you see this bit from Klinsmann’s son about Donovan? Revealing.)