Why USA Made a Mistake Taking Chris Wondolowski over Landon Donovan

Phil KeidelContributor IIJune 9, 2014

With each passing day, Donovan's absence from the USMNT makes less sense.
With each passing day, Donovan's absence from the USMNT makes less sense.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Jurgen Klinsmann's 23-man United States men's national team roster is nearly perfect given what he had to choose from.

But whatever his reasons were for leaving Landon Donovan off the team, they have recently been proven wrong.

Before Jozy Altidore was the best player on the pitch against Nigeria, the argument for leaving Donovan off the team was passable. It was never a strong case, but it passed the "ridiculous or not?" test.

Until the Nigeria match, Altidore had gone goalless for six months. At that point, Klinsmann could not safely predict that Altidore would start all three World Cup Group G matches against Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

There was absolutely a scenario in play where Altidore would have failed to score against Nigeria in the last friendly, then failed to score against Ghana. Klinsmann then would almost certainly have had to turn to Chris Wondolowski to start up front as he did when Clint Dempsey missed the Azerbaijan friendly.

Altidore's brace against Nigeria changes everything and makes Donovan's omission for Wondolowski look dumb.

Granted, it is a trifle unfair to criticize Klinsmann for not predicting that Altidore would snap out of his scoring funk between the time Klinsmann selected his 23 players and the time that the matches began to count. Ask the Long Island Medium how hard the future can be to forecast.

Barring injury, though, Altidore will now probably start all three of the group-stage matches in Brazil. Altidore's emergence against Nigeria relegated Wondolowski to a late cameo against Nigeria, which seems to be all Wondolowski is likely to get in Brazil if he plays at all.

After starting against Azerbaijan and missing two gilt-edged scoring chances, Wondolowski was not used at all against Turkey and came on in the 88th minute against Nigeria. It is difficult to imagine that Klinsmann is holding Wondolowski out now to save him for significant deployment in Brazil.

Wondolowski is 30 years old. His chances of contributing to the American World Cup effort in 2018 are as remote as Donovan's are. That was true when Klinsmann selected the 23-man roster, and it is true now.

Klinsmann is smiling now. We will see how he feels about things in a month.
Klinsmann is smiling now. We will see how he feels about things in a month.Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

With Altidore having relocated his shooting boots, Wondolowski is now surplus to requirements. He is not an "instant offense" scorer, and he does not have the international football-playing record to justify his inclusion here.

Moreover, no one thinks the Americans are going to run and gun with the likes of Portugal and Germany anyway. Klinsmann's only realistic hope against those demonstrably better sides is to have his side defend with resolve and then try to poach a goal late.

Is there an American football player alive better suited to coming on in the 70th minute to find a goal than Donovan?

Admittedly, there are problems with this premise.

Klinsmann's private (now public) expressions of disrespect for Donovan's fitness may have destroyed any chance that Donovan would play for him. The Kobe Bryant comparison was also harsh, even if it was also fair.

For that matter, Donovan almost surely does not see himself as a substitute. Whether Donovan would ultimately have embraced such a role for this American World Cup side will never be known.

Those are risks, however, that Klinsmann needed to take. He could have taken all the kids he ended up taking (Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin, John Anthony Brooks) and still kept Donovan in the fold.

Of course, we as outsiders do not know everything we would like to about this situation. It is entirely possible that Klinsmann asked Donovan whether he would be willing to accept such a role on this World Cup team, received a disinterested response and had to cut Donovan.

Absent of that knowledge, though, we have to look at this roster objectively—without regard to petty disagreements or questions of 90-minute match fitness—and say whether or not Wondolowski is a better use of a roster spot than Donovan.

Knowing what we know now, Donovan's omission just does not make sense.