Immediately after the US national team announced the 23-man roster for the World Cup in Brazil, the phrase “No Landon Donovan” began trending on Twitter.
It’s unfortunate that Donovan’s exclusion is the story rather than the players who did make it, but it’s also understandable. Donovan has been the face of US Soccer for the better part of a decade. He is a veteran of three World Cups, the second most-capped player in USMNT history, and the nation’s all-time leading goal scorer, including five goals in the World Cup itself.
Yet Jurgen Klinsmann has decided to leave him at home.
“I have to make the decisions of what is good today for this group going into Brazil and I just think that the other guys right now are a little bit ahead of him,” Klinsmann said after the roster announcement.
Admittedly, this year, LD has not been the force of nature we’ve grown accustomed to, but I still think leaving him at home is a mistake.
Donovan is a gamer who – like Klinsmann himself when he was a player – has that mystical knack for producing something special when his national team needs it most. Remember Algeria?
LD may not be the swift, electric, attacker he was in his prime. But I believe he still has capacity to conjure up a moment of brilliance like he did in South Africa. And I believe he still has the desire to do so.
Obviously, we will all cheer no matter who is wearing the jersey. But something will be missing in Brazil.
And what’s missing opens Klinsmann – and the whole team – up to a potential backlash at the first sign of difficulty. Will the specter of Donovan linger over the team if they go down a goal?
Of course, you should never go into a World Cup directed by the “what-ifs” should things go wrong. You want to be confident in your roster decisions and your preparations and your tactics.
And I’m sure Klinsmann is. After all, a willingness to take major risks is part of his charm.
And, ostensibly, his plan. The inclusion of World Cup newbies like Chris Wondolowski, Brad Davis, Julian Green, John Brooks, Timothy Chandler, and the biggest surprise of them all, DeAndre Yedlin, shows that Klinsmann is unafraid to blood a few players on the biggest stage in the game.
Will it work? We’ll see. If it does – which, for me, means getting out of the group – Klinsmann will have earned all those millions he’s being paid. And I'll be the first to admit I was wrong.
If it doesn’t work, if the Yanks crash out, struggle to score, fail to capture America’s imagination, the critics will sharpen their knives and ask one question of Klinsmann: Do you still think it was the right decision to leave Donovan at home?