Every era ends. Eventually. And when it does, it’s almost always painful.
"Landon [Donovan] is a great friend, a guy I've learned a lot from and somebody who I've been on the field with on so many tough nights,” midfielder Michael Bradley told ESPN in the wake of the announcement that Donovan was not part of the US national team’s World Cup roster.
“And to see him hurting and upset that now he's not going to have another chance to go to a World Cup is certainly hard.”
But lost amid the TV soundbytes and the Twitter-fueled cacophony that’s followed Donovan’s unceremonious exit from Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup plans is a recognition that change, painful as it is, may yet be refreshing.
After all, back in the early 2000s, Donovan himself was an agent of change on the US team. Who’s to say that one of the greenhorns who got the nod from Klinsmann isn’t ready to channel his inner Donovan and produce something special? Who’s to say an unheralded veteran or first-timer in their prime won’t do the same?
So although I believe there was a place for Donovan on this year’s squad, I also celebrate the fact that DaMarcus Beasley, whose own redemption story with the USMNT is largely ignored, is back for a fourth go on the world stage, an accomplishment unmatched in US Soccer.
I recognize the dogged determination of Chris Wondolowski, a reserve player no less than five years ago who turned himself into one of MLS’ most lethal goalscorers and shed a reputation for flubbing chances with the US to complete what can only be described as a fairytale rise.
I applaud Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis and Nick Rimando, players who never seem to get the recognition their skills and accomplishments deserve and who probably thought their opportunity was lost as each year after 30 was tacked on to their resumes.
I appreciate the professional and personal bond between Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, who began their careers as roommates in the MLS doldrums with the then-Kansas City Wizards then helped transform a franchise and a city as their own careers blossomed.
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I admire Alejandro Bedoya’s perseverance after finding himself on the cutting block in 2010 and after a move to Rangers collapsed under the weight of financial difficulties, only to resurrect his career path in Sweden and France and force his way onto Klinsmann’s radar.
I encourage Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Bradley to take the reins of this team, to lead in the manner that come naturally, to shoulder the pressure Donovan almost seemed to swallow up by himself at times.
Finally, I absolve Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin, John Anthony Brooks and Timmy Chandler – innocent bystanders, at worst – of any blame for one man’s choice. More than anyone else, the next generation of American internationals deserves the chance to make their own way.
The unfortunate truth is that Klinsmann’s decision to jettison Donovan now robs the 23 who are going of their deserved spotlight. And it robs the fans of the team itself.
But this isn’t Klinsmann’s team or Donovan’s team. It’s America’s team. Latchkey kid, American army brat or dual citizen, 23 players not named Jurgen or Landon will pull on red, white and blue this summer in Brazil.
All 23 will be representing us the same way Donovan did for so many years. To allow his absence to overshadow that fact not only disrespects the 23, but also the legacy of Donovan himself — a legacy that deserves better than to be the story of the 2014 World Cup.