Klinsmann makes tough, but right, call on Landon Donovan
Jurgen Klinsmann made the final cuts on Thursday to the U.S. Men’s National Team roster that he will take to Brazil this summer for the World Cup and, in a bit of a small surprise, Landon Donovan will not be making the trip.
“This is certainly one of the toughest decisions – the toughest decision in my coaching career – to tell a player like him with everything he’s done and what he represents, to tell him that you’re not part of those 23 right now,” Klinsmann said of the decision Thursday night. “I just see some other players slightly ahead of him.
“The last 10 days he did everything right. He was always positive, he took it the best way possible. So his disappointment is huge. I totally understand that. He took it very professional, because he’s an outstanding professional player and he knows that I have the highest respect for him.
“But I have to make the decisions as of today. I have to make the decisions what is good today for this group going into Brazil and I just think that the other guys right now are a little bit ahead of him and I told him that. And he understands it, but obviously he’s very disappointed.”
While the decision is a bit controversial, Klinsmann made the right call.
Donovan is the team’s leader in international goals (57), World Cup games (12), World Cup goals (5) and is second in international games played (156).
But he is also a 32-year-old player who, while the longtime face of U.S. soccer, admits he is not the same player anymore.
“I think it’s more this point in my career – and it started briefly with Bob (Bradley) in the Gold Cup a few years ago – where you may not be penned in as a starter or as part of the team every time,” Donovan said last month. “That as an athlete is a hard realization to swallow, because we all think we’re invincible, we all think we’re great, we all have an ego at times. Dealing with that process has been … not challenging but interesting, and it’s just coming to grips with it. I’ve sort of had to realize that.
“I think Jurgen’s motto – and I think to his credit it has worked and been good – is that you have to be good all the time, and you have to prove it every day. That’s hard for older players.”
Klinsmann made it clear when training camp started that players would be judged on what they can do for the team this summer, rather than what they have done in the past. And as much as Donovan may say he still wants to play, you have to wonder how much his heart is in it after he took a four-month sabbatical last year while the U.S. was in the heart of qualifying matches.
“Since (Landon) took his break, I simply told him, ‘If you take a break like that, then you have to fight your way back into the picture and you have to confirm it week in, week out with performances for your club team and also with the national team. I’m straightforward with him every time that I see him,” Klinsmann said in published reports. “With all the appreciation and admiration for what he’s done throughout his career, which is extraordinary and deserves the compliments that he gets, soccer is about what happens today. What you do today and what you hopefully do tomorrow.
“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 is the right decision.”
Klinsmann is taking a gamble that Donovan’s experience – very few players on the current squad have been in as many pressure situations as him – is not enough to outweigh his limitations as a player.
The coach also seems comfortable relying on captain Clint Dempsey, midfielder Michael Bradley and goal keeper Tim Howard, all players who have been in the international fire before.
While the door isn’t closed completely on Donovan – he could potentially be recalled if someone is injured – Klinsmann has turned his attention to the opening game against Ghana.
“What we’re trying to do now basically having this 23 is really to prepare in every way, in every training session and every game that we have for the first game against Ghana because this is such a huge game for us. We really need to win this game,” Klinsmann said. “We can now only work with those (23) players and not with an extended roster and that gives us a bit more quality in everything we do and also gives the players a very clear picture with what is going on.”
Donovan has been a key player for the U.S. for a long time, but everything eventually has to come to an end.
Klinsmann is building the team he wants, even if it may not be the team that some fans want.
We’ll know in a few weeks if that is a good thing or not.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)