Why Landon Donovan Should Be Going to Brazil

Landon Donovan was cut from the USMNT roster on Thursday. But is coach Jurgen Klinsmann making a mistake?
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, May 23, 2014

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The United States’ most iconic and legendary soccer player will not be playing in this year’s World Cup.

Landon Donovan, the dynamic LA Galaxy star who has played a heroic role for the United States on multiple occasions, was 1 of 7 players cut from the USMNT’s 2014 World Cup squad late Thursday. Though a surprising move, concerns rose over the last few weeks among fans, pundits and the US Soccer staff, including head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, about Donovan’s fitness, leadership and ability on the pitch.

The Klinsmann/Donovan disconnect began when Donovan left for Cambodia, taking a hiatus from soccer to refresh and get the batteries back to neutral. Upon his return, Klinsmann was blunt about Donovan’s spot on the team. He said Donovan would have to earn his spot back, and also eventually gave the captain’s armband, previously worn by Donovan, to Clint Dempsey.

And since then, Donovan has regained some ground in the USMNT locker room. He was included in 2013’s Gold Cup run and in several of the camps since. But a nagging injury sidelined him in recent months, and little success for the Galaxy wasn’t a good sign, either. Donovan’s been on a bit of a cold spell. He’s aged (keep in mind that he's only 32). He’s gained weight.

So for those reasons, Donovan getting cut makes sense — if it wasn’t Landon Donovan.

Given Klinsmann’s track record of making surprising moves — leaving Eddie Johnson and Tim Ream off the preliminary World Cup roster, but calling up Timmy Chandler, for example — Donovan’s exclusion from the World Cup squad fits the trend. And since the USA has long since needed to prepare for a life without Donovan, Klinsmann, who is contracted through 2018, started this process a little early by not bringing Donovan to Brazil.

But he’s still America’s best ever.

He’s the all-time leader in goals and assists for the USA, and the most by any American at the World Cup with 5 goals. He’s the most herald and recognizable US soccer player of this generation and previous ones. He has won 5 MLS Cup titles and is current tied for all-time goals in the American league with 134 goals. In many cases, “Landon Donovan” is synonymous with the USMNT.

And yet he’s not going to Brazil. He’s played his final World Cup.

Donovan would have brought more experience in the World Cup than any other American player. He not only knows how to play at the World Cup, but he knows how to win. Late heroics in the 2010 South Africa World Cup show that he can perform extremely well under pressure and carry the team on his back.

Donovan is also hyper competitive. He may not be the greatest leader, or the most fit guy as of late, but he knows the World Cup environment better than the rest of the side. And with a roster of untested Americans headed to Brazil, Donovan’s role is all the more necessary.

By leaving him stateside, not only does America’s best performer ever not take center stage in Brazil — surely causing a potential competitive disadvantage for the USA — but also fans might strike back at the sour taste of a Donovan-less USA squad. Even US Soccer could potentially see this as a poor move, since, as previously mentioned, Donovan is the most recognizable and marketable American soccer player. Stakeholders in the USA want to see Donovan, and Klinsmann would have done well to make sure he’s on the squad for that reason alone. If Klinsmann fails at the World Cup — and fails miserably — this will be the moment that haunts him.

Donovan didn’t need to start for the squad, either. Klinsmann’s built himself a midfield mess with all the influx of players. And if the only option was to bring Donovan and have him on the bench, it’s fine. The USA would still get his experience and ability that has tremendous value in a tournament as difficult in the World Cup. In the initial call-ups, he was pooled with the forwards. But he can drift in any midfield role, too, which means he can fill nearly any midfield or attacking role on the pitch. He’s a utility player — and he can make such a difference in a game, especially if injuries occur.

This World Cup side is inexperienced and without chemistry. Players who have been consistent in qualifying — like Eddie Johnson or Brad Evans — aren’t going to Brazil. Even players who are on form, like Terrence Boyd, is staying home. There’s no real picture of what this USA will be like. And from a chemistry standpoint, there’s no one you want more than Donovan. He grew up playing with DaMarcus Beasley and Kyle Beckerman. He’s been playing with a lot of the US roster for years. He’s the central piece that this inconsistent and chaotic USA team needs.

It’s simple: Without Landon Donovan, the US’ chances in Brazil have dropped considerably.

Donovan is the best American of all-time. He’s got a whopping amount of experience and a treasure trove of competitiveness. His historic accomplishments over the last decade and more show that he’s unmatched by any American in history. He’s the USA’s best ever. Period. He's a necessity.

But he won't be in Brazil.

NEXT UP: May 27 – Friendly: United States vs. Azerbaijan, Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Calif. 10 p.m. EST, ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.
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