World Cup Update: What happened to Landon Donovan?

By Matt Deger

Monday, June 16. The US will play Ghana in their first game of this world cup. Just a few short weeks ago US coach Jurgen Klinsmann shocked a large part of the US Soccer world by announcing a World Cup roster that didn’t include, Landon Donovan, the all-time leading US scorer.  There are several theories as to why he may have been left off the roster, and here they are:

Theory One: He’s been around forever he must be getting old right?

This year Landon Donovan is thirty-two, he’s already had a very long national team career and would be among the oldest non-goalkeepers on the roster. However, midfielders Jermaine Jones, Brad Davis, and Kyle Beckerman are all the same age and so is defender Damarcus Beasley. Forwards Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski are close at thirty-one. The theory that Donovan lost his spot due to his age loses a little steam when you see the ages of these players written out.  Though it is possible that he lost the spot for the sake of a younger player.  Likely the last addition to the roster was 19-year-old Julian Green. Green has dual citizenship with the US and Germany and has played at the youth level for both countries. Once a player appears for the full national team of a country, he can only play for that country. It is widely rumored that Klinsmann may have offered a World Cup roster spot to Green in order to secure him as a future player for the USMNT. This is a hard one. I feel that Donovan’s definitely lost something over the last couple years. That said, he’s scored buckets of goals for the US including eight in 2013.

Theory Two: Jurgen Klinsmann must hate Landon Donovan?

This is really interesting. Donovan infamously took a sabbatical last year that resulted in him missing a few of the world cup qualifying games. Klinsmann has stated that leaving Donovan off of the roster was a soccer decision, not a personal decision. So regardless of the vacation Donovan took, he lost a step compared to other players and that is why he wasn’t included on the team.  This is frustrating for many fans because even a not full steam Donovan is demonstrably better than some of the less well regarded players that round out the roster. Even fans who believe that Donovan isn’t the same player he was in his prime would say that his experience could be valuable off the bench as a substitute or as a leader in the locker room. There might be some truth in this theory. Klinsmann was one of the world’s best soccer players in his playing days and often talks about the lack of drive or hunger in many American players. Landon Donovan has played the vast majority of his career in sunny California, not against much harder competition in Europe.

Theory Three: Is it actually a soccer decision?

Ok big time fans, we’ve established that Donovan can score the goals and has done for the US, but when was the last time he scored for the USMNT on foreign soil. Think about this for a minute. Really hard. 6/26/2010 Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, South Africa. That’s right, last World Cup. Only eleven of his 57 career goals have been scored on foreign soil. 32 of Klinsmann’s 47 goals for Germany were on foreign soil. Forgetting the goals there is also the question of where to play him. He’s not going to run the offense like he used to, and Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey combine to make him redundant. Adding Donovan to the mix could very well be too many cooks in one kitchen. Klinsmann made a name for himself as a coach by taking amd rebuilding Germany before eventually leading them to third place in the 2006 World Cup. He did that by cutting several established older players and bringing on a bevy of young relatively inexperienced players. Coincidentally, some of these same players will be suiting up against the US on June 26. Since taking over the US team he’s done basically the same thing. Only a small core group of players are returning from the 2010 World Cup team.

To Sum Up

I’ve been a Donovan fan since he first burst onto the scene fifteen years ago. He’s been the face of US Soccer for almost my entire adult life. There are twenty-three roster spots available to the US. Eleven will be starters, two will be reserve goalkeepers. Of the ten remaining bench players maybe half will actually play any meaningful amount. Nothing against the players that are currently occupying those last roster spots, but if it were my choice, I think I can find the room for Landon Donovan.

Watch the US take on their first 2014 World Cup opponent, Ghana, tonight at 6:00pm.  Then mark your calendar for US vs. Portugal 6:00 pm 6/22/2014 and US vs. Germany noon 6/26/2014


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