We've heard Jurgen Klinsmann's side of the story. Now, Landon Donovan is speaking out on Klinsmann's decision to leave him off the United States' 2014 World Cup roster.
It's safe to say Donovan and the U.S. boss aren't seeing the same thing when they look at the Los Angeles Galaxy forward.
Speaking publicly for the first time since being left off the 23-man roster Thursday, Donovan expressed guarded frustration with Klinsmann's decision, per Adam Serrano of the Galaxy's official website:
Perhaps the most popular soccer player in United States history, Donovan's exclusion from the 2014 World Cup roster has fractured opinions nationwide. His national stature and history of solid World Cup play made many think he was a lock for the final roster—especially given the United States' shaky international standing.
It will be the first time since the 1998 World Cup that Donovan has not been a part of the roster.
Klinsmann, the 49-year-old German who took over the United States' program in 2011, has long had a contentious relationship with Donovan. As Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl noted, their mistrust dates back to their time at Bayern Munich in 2009 and has largely fluctuated since. Donovan's decision to take a sabbatical amid World Cup qualifying matches last year also did little to engender good faith.
In a press conference explaining his decision Friday, Klinsmann told reporters their relationship had no bearing in his decision. It was purely a soccer matter.
"As a coach, you have to make a decision based on what you want to execute in Brazil, what you want to see, how do you want to build those components into the entire group," Klinsmann said. "And then I felt—we coaches felt—the guys that we chose, they're a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas."
At age 32 and a decade and a half into his senior career, it's fair to say Donovan is on the downslope of his career. He's a step or two slower, the ball doesn't explode off his foot quite the same way, and there are myriad other factors of aging that go into consideration.
Still, it's understandable to allow some skepticism to creep in. Even at less-than-peak form, Donovan is on par or superior to some of the players Klinsmann decided to bring on the trip to Brazil. Donovan also felt he outplayed some of his USMNT teammates in the pre-selection camp, per Greg Beacham of the Associated Press:
Landon Donovan: "I thought if I was only judged on what happened in camp, I deserved to be in Brazil."— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) May 24, 2014
Nothing Donovan or Klinsmann says publicly will alter any opinions. There are two camps in this situation: Either you're angry Donovan was left off the team, or you feel Klinsmann made the right long-term decision for United States soccer.
There are few middle-of-the-road types, which is understandable given the player being discussed. This is the rough equivalent of Mike Krzyzewski leaving Kobe Bryant off the 2016 Summer Olympics team (if he wanted to play). The creeping of Father Time is something no star athlete sees coming—and something they rarely handle well.
That Donovan has not gone on a tirade or publicly criticized Klinsmann in the aftermath of his decision speaks to the former's character. Saturday's press conference was merely a real-life repetition of Thursday's Facebook post, in which he said he'll "be cheering on my friends and teammates this summer, and I remain committed to helping grow soccer in the US in the years to come."
As an ambassador of the game, Donovan has more than done his job. The sport has a growing popularity in the United States that doesn't seem to be ceasing anytime soon. MLS, the USMNT and even the Premier League television ratings owe part of their increase to Donovan.
Should Landon Donovan have made the 2014 United States World Cup team?
Brazil will just have to be the place where the next ambassador takes his place once and for all. Clint Dempsey has been the team's best player for years, and his high-profile move to the Seattle Sounders helped boost MLS' profile last year. Jozy Altidore, too, has been groomed for this moment for years. Eight of the players selected for Brazil are under the age of 25.
There is no shortage of promising youth on this roster. One of the kids whose adolescence coincided with Donovan's rise to international fame will rise to the forefront—or Klinsmann's roster will go down as a gaffe that may someday call his job security into question.
Either way, Landon Donovan won't be there to find out. Nothing Donovan or the public sentiment says can change that.
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