World Cup: Jurgen Klinsmann explains Landon Donovan's absence from USMNT starting lineup

GLENDALE, Ariz. – On Tuesday, Landon Donovan hinted that he could be on the cusp of his final Mexico clash, perhaps a regional hurrah for the United States’ best-ever player.

So when the US lineup was released at University of Phoenix Stadium and Donovan wasn’t in Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting lineup, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

As it turns out, the German’s reasoning was straightforward.

“It was a simple decision based on where he was the last couple days,” Klinsmann said. “He told me also this morning that he had some issues with his left knee. But he didn’t train well. He had no tempo in his training sessions. He had no higher pace, higher rhythm. He didn’t take people on.”

Donovan, for his part, didn’t necessarily disagree with his head coach’s decision, one delivered in person the morning of the Americans’ 2-2 draw against El Tri.

“I was just limited movement wise. I was compensating and not myself,” he said. “I stayed off it a bit the past few days. I took it easy the last two days. It probably didn’t help my cause to start the game tonight, but you have to be smart. It’s a long year, there’s a lot going on. I think tonight it was the right decision.”

Klinsmann gave Chris Wondolowski the start alongside Clint Dempsey, saying he couldn’t justify not rewarding Wondolowski for a two-goal performance against South Korea on Feb. 1 as well as sustained effort in training.

Donovan, meanwhile, came on after 59 minutes, replacing Graham Zusi on the right flank.

“I think I would have played the game, started the game had [the knee] not been an issue. I know myself,” Donovan said. “I know that if I would have gone all out yesterday, I would have had no chance to play today.

“I would have been able to play fine today [had I started], I know my body. But in [Klinsmann's] defense, if he sees that I don’t look right in training, he can’t really justify playing me. I see both sides of it, but I know that when gameday comes I perform.”

It’s that unwavering confidence that has allowed Donovan to accumulate 156 caps and 57 international goals. But it’s also been made abundantly clear over the past two years that his CV won’t sway Klinsmann from going his own way.

“At the end of the day, he knows that I make the decisions, and I make the decisions based on what I’m telling him,” Klinsmann said. “So it’s all good. He took it very positively, and he said 'I’m ready coming off the bench at halftime or whenever you need me'.”

And it’s almost certainly true that Klinsmann will need Donovan this summer – whether that’s as a starter or a spark off the bench, a role the LA Galaxy man said he has learned to appreciate over the years.

Either way, Donovan’s happy to “go with the flow” as he prepares for his fourth World Cup.

“I’m fine with whatever. I like being a part of the team,” he said. “On a certain day, if Jurgen wants me to start and play many minutes, that’s great. If, on other days, he sees other options and he wants to take advantage of that, I’m happy to come off the bench. I’m in a different phase of my career. I can handle that.”