Landon Donovan is a big name, so it came as a bit of a surprise when U.S. Men's National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann reportedly omitted him from the U.S. roster before launching into two friendlies and three World Cup qualifiers in May and June, per Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated.
But it shouldn't have been a huge surprise, given it was the logical choice.
Donovan risked his spot on the roster the moment he took a sabbatical from the game of soccer from January to March. He's played in just five games after returning to the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 30, and he's really only had one quality game in that span (against Sporting Kansas City on April 20).
Chemistry is a huge part of the game, and Klinsmann talked about Donovan's absence during the team's developmental period last month, via Soccer by Ives:
Most of the time (Donovan) was not part of that process. That was his choice, and I totally understand that, and it’s no problem, but at the same time we’re moving forward at our speed.
There is a chemistry being developed of a group and you always have to feel where this whole thing is moving towards, and he hasn’t been a part of that development of this team most of the time over the past two years.
I respect Klinsmann for doing what he did—it certainly couldn't have been an easy decision. Not only that, I thought it was the right move. Donovan isn't close to top form yet, and you can't expect him to all of a sudden get it going during qualifiers. The 31-year-old should have known when he took a break from soccer that it could hurt his chances of playing with the U.S. in May and June.
Most likely, Klinsmann is waiting for Donovan to get back into prime form before potentially adding him to the team for the Gold Cup in July. That could preclude adding the veteran for the next round of qualifiers in September. Hopefully the team continues to develop, and Donovan is in better fitness by July.
There is the other side of the argument, of course. Leaving a proven leader off the roster could potentially lose you some matches.
But, then again, you don't want to mess with the chemistry the team has developed. These guys have been working together for some time, and the sudden inclusion of Donovan could potentially take an adjustment period, and, by then, it may be too late.
By omitting Donovan, Klinsmann shows that he understands the whole picture. It's not about the best team on paper. It's about the best cohesive unit. Donovan will likely get his turn in July, but he doesn't deserve to make the team now.