U.S. men’s soccer coach Juergen Klinsmann made waves Thursday when he cut forward/midfielder Landon Donovan, the face of U.S. soccer for the past 10-plus years, from the American World Cup team. Although some had warned about this possible outcome, the move was something of a surprise considering Donovan is the leading scorer in U.S. men’s soccer history.
But why was Donovan left off (even though Klinsmann could call on him in the case of injury), even though he still seemed to have some life in his legs at 32.
Since the start of 2013, Landon Donovan has created 37 scoring chances in 12 games for US national team - 16 more than any other player— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 23, 2014
Here’s The Post’s Steven Goff:
This year, the first sign of Klinsmann’s uncertainty about Donovan’s World Cup status came last month when Donovan did not start in a friendly against Mexico, even though first-tier European-based players were not on the roster. Donovan had been hampered by a knee injury and did not show well in practice leading up to the match.
In MLS, Donovan is scoreless in seven regular season matches. With his next goal, he will become the league’s all-time leading scorer.
Though neither side acknowledged it, there was persistent speculation in U.S. circles that Klinsmann questioned Donovan’s commitment to the program and his coaching philosophy.
Asked Monday whether his relationship with Klinsmann was strained, Donovan said: “That was not true.”
[RELATED: Did Klinsmann make the right move? Vote in our poll.]
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated seems to think Klinsmann never trusted Donovan again after the U.S. player didn’t pan out during his one year with German club team Bayern Munich — where Klinsmann was then coaching — in 2009. Klinsmann had lobbied the club to bring him over.
Ultimately, Donovan didn’t meet expectations and returned to MLS at the end of his loan. Bayern officials wondered why Klinsmann had put so much trust in Donovan when the manager’s own job was on the line. Klinsmann was out at Bayern a few months later, and truth be told, he never entrusted his full faith in Donovan again.
While never specifically saying so, Wahl also seems to question the move.
Even allowing that Donovan isn’t the player he once was, are the players that Klinsmann chose over Donovan actual upgrades for Brazil 2014? Brad Davis has a good left foot and takes effective set pieces, but would you rather bring him on as a sub than Donovan when you need a goal? Julian Green, 18, may be a star in 2018, but he has barely played any first-team soccer at club level. You’re telling me you’d rather use him in a game than Donovan? …
Only five players of the 23 on the final U.S. World Cup team have ever played in a World Cup before. Five. Nor would Donovan have been a locker-room problem if he wasn’t starting in Brazil. The guy isn’t a diva.
Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles times takes the this-shouldn’t-be-a-surprise route:
The Galaxy standout, who has appeared in more World Cup games (12) and scored more goals (5) than any American player, has been at odds with Klinsmann since taking a three-month sabbatical from soccer at the start of World Cup qualifying last year.
Donovan said he needed a break after averaging a game nearly every eight days for a decade. And Klinsmann, who demands 24/7 devotion to soccer, used that to question Donovan’s hunger and commitment. The rift appeared to widen last month when the coach challenged Donovan’s fitness before a friendly with Mexico, then kept him on the sideline until early in the second half.
Former Post scribe Paul Tenorio, now in Orlando, worries about the locker room
I dont know that you can keep the locker room totally behind you with Donovan decision, or the American fans. Distraction through tourney— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) May 22, 2014
And then there’s Klinsmann’s son, keeping it classy (he has since apologized)
Klinsmann’s son wrote this then deleted: RT @jonklinsmann HHAHAHAHAHAHAH DONAVAN HAHAHAHAA I DIDNT EVEN NOTICE UNTIL PHONE NOTIFIED ME HAHA— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) May 22, 2014