Jurgen Klinsmann has way too much job security. Clearly Landon Donovan does not.
That's the only way to explain the unexplainable. Klinsmann announced his 23-man team for the World Cup in Brazil on Thursday, and the story is less about the nearly two dozen players who made it than the one who didn't.
Donovan was left off the World Cup roster, meaning he will miss out on his fourth World Cup so Klinsmann can reward 18-year-old Julian Green for spurning Germany to play for the U.S. National Team. For Klinsmann's national team.
This is a power play that is impossible to believe. Hell, I wrote just this week that we should stop pretending Donovan isn't a lock for the trip to Brazil because it would take some enormous Brazucas for Klinsmann to put together a team of 23 without the best player in American history, who has proven he can shine in the bright lights of the World Cup.
Brazucas he has…and they come in the form of a contract extension Klinsmann signed in December that takes him beyond the 2018 World Cup when, presumably, the U.S. team won't be in the most difficult group in recent memory.
Just double checking my math. 1 cap, no 1st team minutes with club team > 156 caps, 5 World Cup goals, best player in U.S. history. Got it.— Jimmy Conrad (@JimmyConrad) May 22, 2014
The early returns on the Donovan news, other than utter shock, are that Klinsmann must feel the group stage is insurmountable and, rather than bring a group with more aging veterans who have World Cup experience—to try to actually get out of the group and advance—it makes more sense to bring young players who can use the event as a learning experience for the Copa America in two years and the next World Cup in four.
Since Donovan's hiatus from playing in 2013, Klinsmann has been looking for reasons to exclude him from the World Cup plans. Even after having no real reason to do so—certainly not with any options for the team better than Donovan from which to choose—Klinsmann still decided to leave him at home.
This is Klinsmann's America, not Donovan's. We are going to do this his way, even if it doesn't work this year. Via USSoccer.com, Klinsmann said:
It’s an exciting moment when you have narrowed the roster down as a coaching staff, and these 23 players that you’ve chosen can focus now purely on Brazil. We can go into more specific things about technical approaches, and about the opponents. For the players, it’s very important to know that they are now part of it and they can relax and know they are on the list going to Brazil and taking it from there. After almost 10 days of work right now, we thought the point has come to make the decision.
Klinsmann's decision is obviously more about the distant future than the immediate, and while Green could turn out to be the best player the U.S. will ever see, Donovan is the best player we've ever seen—past tense—but still good enough that he can help the present team on and off the field in Brazil.
Donovan—and Clarence Goodson, for that matter, but more on him in a minute—was left off the World Cup roster for an 18-year-old kid with one cap in a meaningless game where he looked disastrously overwhelmed.
He was left off the team for Mikkel Diskerud, who, like Green, could prove to be the future of the U.S. midfield but has yet to prove in an American jersey that he's ready for the world stage.
He was left off the team for Brad Davis, a solid yet unspectacular MLS talent who, tell me if you've heard this before, has yet to prove in an American jersey that's he's ready for the world stage.
Come to think of it, how many players on this USMNT roster can you honestly say are ready for the world stage? Donovan would have been one of them, regardless of how he has looked so far this MLS season.
Many of the players Klinsmann selected will be looking at the World Cup as a place to gain international experience, not use what they've already learned.
We've never had better evidence that Klinsmann is bulletproof. "Failure" can be spun. He's not getting fired, no matter how bad it goes.— Jason Davis (@davisjsn) May 22, 2014
Take the international caps of Green, Diskerud, Davis, Timmy Chandler, DeAndre Yedlin, Aron Johannsson, Matt Besler, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Chris Wondolowski, Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya and add them all together and you get 160—four more than the number of international caps Donovan, himself, has earned in his career.
Experience means something at the World Cup, especially when the inexperienced players Klinsmann has chosen haven't even proven themselves in World Cup qualifying.
Honestly, what has Green done other than show potential that warrants his inclusion in this World Cup squad? What have Yedlin or Brooks done in international duty to give anyone faith they can help get the U.S. Soccer troops out of the group stage?
Is Goodson a world-class center back? No, but he has World Cup experience, something the entire back line other than DaMarcus Beasley sorely lacks heading into Brazil.
Klinsmann has said he no longer views Donovan as a midfielder, putting him up in camp against the forwards, but he's going into the World Cup with Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and then a host of other midfield players with little to no track record at this level.
Donovan may not have it anymore, at least in Klinsmann's view. But he's had it, and suggesting he can't find it again is hoping that someone with no experience makes Klinsmann look like a genius.
Can his plan work? Anything is possible. Brooks could shake off the nerves and be a stalwart on the back line in Brazil, and for years to come. Johannsson could be a scoring machine next month and Diskerud could be a distributing wizard. Davis' free kicks could be awe-inspiring and Green could prove to be that spark the U.S. has been looking to find for decades.
All of that could happen in Brazil. It could. Or the inexperienced players Klinsmann has put his faith in could get thrashed by the battle-tested rosters of Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
After four years of building to this World Cup, we could be stuck watching some horrific growing pains, all in an effort to build a winner in the future. Donovan, inexplicably, will be stuck watching with us. I was wrong when I called Donovan a lock for the World Cup roster. Now, Klinsmann better be right.