I am still stunned by the news that Landon Donovan has been left off of the U.S.’s final 23-man World Cup roster. Donovan is the best American soccer player ever, and while he is no longer in his prime, he certainly has some good years left in him. It is a bold move by national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann, one that many will point to critically if the U.S. does poorly in Brazil.
From a purely talent-based viewpoint, I can understand Donovan’s exclusion, kind of (I’m sorry, but there is just no way that someone such as DeAndre Yedlin will somehow be more valuable to the team than Donovan would have been [and yes, I realize they play different positions], but I suppose that Klinsmann’s choice shows that Donovan would have been on the periphery of the squad anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter in terms of who has an opportunity to be on the pitch). He has not been in good form this season, in part because of a nagging injury. Had he been selected to the squad, he would not have been starting. But I wonder about the psychological impact his absence will have on his (now former) teammates. Klinsmann may feel that the roster he has chosen is the strongest one, but do the players? Donovan is still the U.S.’s most visible player, both among casual American soccer fans and among European fans and players. He is a player that other national teams worry about facing, and that psychological advantage is now lost.
I also certainly question Klinsmann’s decision as a fan because I think Donovan has done enough for the U.S. Men’s National Team, and for soccer in America in general, that he deserves to play in one more World Cup. Donovan’s breakout performance came during the 2002 World Cup alongside the U.S.’s other hotshot young gun DaMarcus Beasley, and I never would have guessed that Beasley would be playing in this year’s World Cup (and he’ll probably be in the starting lineup!) and Donovan wouldn’t.