STANFORD, Calif. – Landon Donovan simply didn’t fit into Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans for Brazil.
That was the bottom-line explanation offered by the coach of the US national team on Friday when we was asked to expound on the jarring decision to drop the all-time leading scorer in USMNT history from his final 23-man roster for next month’s World Cup.
“As a coach, you need to make a decision about what you want to execute in Brazil, what you want to see, how you want to build those components into the entire group,” Klinsmann said at Friday's press conference at Stanford University, “and then we coaches felt the players we chose are a little step a head of Landon in certain areas.”
What exactly are those areas? Klinsmann wouldn’t say, nor did he provide any insight into what the likes of Brad Davis, Julian Green, Alejandro Bedoya or any of the attacking options the coach opted for in Thursday’s announcement brought to the table over Donovan. (Though Klinsmann was adamant he did not select the 18-year-old Green in place of him.)
But he did suggest that Donovan’s evolving game, at 32 years of age, might not have been right for his attacking look.
“Where he maybe is not anymore able to go one against one all the time, going into the box or finishing off, he brings other values to the table,” Klinsmann said. “His outstanding passing game, his experience, which is a big factor always. And other elements.
“He's changed his game over the last few years, which is normal at that stage in his career. So those things, coaches discuss. We discuss strengths and weaknesses of the other guys and then we have to make a decision. He's done an amazing job the last 10 days and has done everything right.”
Just not enough to make a fourth World Cup trip and further cement his legacy as the greatest player ever produced in the United States. Klinsmann acknowledged it was a difficult decision, but also said he did not consult the leaders of his team – Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard or Michael Bradley – before making the move.
But the toughest part was explaining it to Donovan himself on Thursday afternoon. Donovan responded like a professional – as he detailed in a statement on his Facebook page on Thursday night – even though he didn’t agree with the decision.
“Obviously, [a] big disappointment,” Klinsmann said of their conversation. “That is expected and he said that doesn't kind of understand it. He thinks he should've been in the 23, which is well taken. I want a player to speak up and say that as well.
“…I explained why this and why this and I hope for his understanding and I hope also that he stands really by us and, if something happens tomorrow, then I can call him tomorrow and he's back right away.”
That’s where the most intriguing question may arise. If anyone from Klinsmann’s final 23 is injured before the US play their first World Cup game against Ghana on June 16, the coach can swap in any other player up to 24 hours before the game. The coach said if that were the case, the replacement would be one of the seven players cut Thursday. Would Donovan consider stepping back in after the finality of not being one of Klinsmann’s chosen ones?
“He assured [me] that 24-7, he's at our disposal when the call comes he’s ready to go,” Klinsmann asserted.
And despite being in and out of Klinsmann’s camps – especially during his near four-month sabbatical that kept him out of the USMNT picture for more than a year – the coach believes this isn’t the end of the road for the LA Galaxy star.
“I also have the strong hope that he absolutely continues after it,” Klinsmann said. “…That is our vision, absolutely, that Landon continues his national team career. No doubt about it.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.