United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann released the 23-man roster for the World Cup on Thursday. The announcement came earlier than expected with three friendlies still on the docket before the national team heads to Brazil.
The biggest surprise was the absence of Landon Donovan. The longtime American stalwart is the team's all-time leading scorer with 57 goals. Although the 32-year-old is not the same player he was during his prime, it was believed he was still one of the best 23 players available.
Klinsmann held a press conference on Friday to discuss the decision-making process when it came to Donovan and all of the other tough choices the coaching staff was forced to make. Let's check out some highlights from the media availability.
Before the press conference got underway, the German manager spoke with ESPN's Julie Foudy. He told the former women's national team star that Donovan is still just one call away should an injury occur leading up to the World Cup, as noted by Doug McIntyre of ESPN:
Klinsmann to ESPN’s @JulieFoudy: “God forbid [a striker] gets injured, I’m the first one to get on the phone and call Landon back in.”— Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN) May 23, 2014
Interestingly, Klinsmann continued to suggest Donovan was viewed purely as a striker, as opposed to a player who could shift into the midfield. Given that situation, the margin for error in order to make the roster clearly became smaller and he ultimately fell short.
GoalUSA's Thomas Floyd provides more of what went into Klinsmann's decision:
Klinsmann refers to "technical reasons" for Donovan's exclusion. But said "when the call comes, he's ready to go" in case of injury. #USMNT— Thomas Floyd (@thomasfloyd10) May 23, 2014
Another theory about why the Los Angeles Galaxy star didn't make the roster was the belief Klinsmann had one eye on 2018. There are several young, inexperienced players on the roster, including 23-year-old Aron Johannsson and 18-year-old Julian Green in attacking roles.
Goal USA passed along Klinsmann's response to a question about that:
Klinsmann says building for 2018 didn't factor: "This is based on today. This is based on what hopefully goes well the next seven weeks."— Goal USA (@GoalUSA) May 23, 2014
One thing the head coach remained consistent in stating over the past day, including during the press conference via SportsCenter, is saying he believed other players were ahead of Donovan right now:
"I felt there are guys that we chose that are a little step of ahead of him. (Landon Donovan)" - Jurgen Klinsmann #LiveOnSC— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 23, 2014
The head coach was forced to answer a question about how his son responded to the news that Donovan missed the cut. Kelly Whiteside of USA Today reported some background information about the situation:
After Landon Donovan was shockingly cut from the 23-player World Cup roster on Thursday, the head coach's son, Jonathan, tweeted: "HHAHAHAHAHAHAH DONAVAN HAHAHAHAA I DIDNT EVEN NOTICE UNTIL PHONE NOTIFIED ME HAHA"
Then came the apology: "Yes, I deleted the tweet, Yes, I realize it was VERY classless. But again, My sincerest apologies to everyone who was offended."
Steven Goff of The Washington Post passed along part of Klinsmann's answer:
Klinsmann, on son's tweet: "Highly disappointed. I called him right away. He got his biggest social media lesson he could imagine" #usmnt— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) May 23, 2014
Among those impressed with how he handled what could have been a tricky matter was Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated:
Jürgen Klinsmann's answer about son's tweet aimed at Landon Donovan was as good an answer to a Q in an open presser as I've seen in awhile.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) May 23, 2014
Despite missing out on the World Cup roster, Klinsmann is hopeful Donovan will decide to remain available for international duty moving forward, according to beIN Sports:
Klinsmann goes on to say he has "strong hopes" Donovan will continue with the #USMNT.— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTSUSA) May 23, 2014
Did Donovan deserve a roster spot?
As expected, the Donovan conversation dominated most of the press conference. Klinsmann maintained the stance that other players were simply ahead of the forward, but he didn't go into specifics in terms of tactics that could have favored other players.
He also praised Donovan for taking the decision professionally and remaining committed should an injury arise that would lead him to get called back in.
Despite this, Ray Hudson still took to the radio to give his harsh feelings on Klinsmann's decision on Friday:
Ultimately, those looking for a concrete answer as to why Klinsmann felt any single player was more valuable to have on the team than Donovan didn't get it. But he was constant about saying other players were slightly ahead of him overall.
Klinsmann talked about why he decided to name the 23-man roster now rather than wait until after players had a chance to audition during the friendlies. U.S. Soccer provided his remarks about wanting those who made the cut to understand their role:
One thing the manager was quick to do was shoot down any direct comparisons between Green and Donovan, as Jeff Carlisle of ESPN noted:
Klinsmann on Green: "Julian didn't hide. Not even one second." Refuses to be drawn into Green/Donovan comparisons. #usmnt— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) May 23, 2014
That's something Klinsmann will be forced to do a lot in the weeks ahead. Though he tried to make it so the decision wasn't about Green, Johannsson or anybody else being the one person who beat out Donovan, the outside perception is the opposite.
And if Green is viewed as the player who took the spot after just one cap there will be a massive amount of pressure on him in Brazil. The manager must try to ensure that isn't the case.
Ives Galarcep of Soccer By Ives passed along word on the status of Geoff Cameron. He played right-back at Stoke City but is expected to slide inside for the World Cup:
Klinsmann also confirmed what had been suspected about Cameron, that he’ll play CB. Chandler’s strong camp makes that an easy call #USMNT— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) May 23, 2014
Finally, Chris Wondolowski, another forward who got the nod over Donovan, drew praise from Klinsmann for his effort to work his way up the ladder, as Robert Jonas of CSN Bay Area noted:
The newly minted 23-man roster will get its first warm-up test against Azerbaijan next Tuesday. Matches against Turkey (June 1) and Nigeria (June 7) will follow before the United States travels to Brazil ahead of its World Cup opener against Ghana (June 16).
Klinsmann leaves himself open to widespread criticism by leaving Donovan off the roster. That said, he made it clear during the press conference that the decisions were made based on who's best for the team right now.
Five weeks from now it will be clear whether he made the right choices.