A soccer story led off SportsCenter yesterday. Shocked the hell out of me. With the NBA playoffs, the NHL playoffs, minicamps in the NFL, and the MLB season in full swing, a soccer story led off SportsCenter. What!? Yup it happened as ESPN, and other media outlets, dedicated good time to the surprising story that Landon Donovan will not make his fourth World Cup team (he made the 2002, 2006, and 2010 squads). The leading goal scorer in United States history, and the man who made the second most appearances for the Stars and Stripes will not be on the plane to Brazil. The 32 year old from California, has long been considered the best player the United States has ever produced but manager Jurgen Klinsmann decided that he had no place for Donovan on his team.
Landon has scored 157 goals for the Stars and Stripes. Five of those goals came over the course of the three World Cups he participated in. He’s won numerous individual awards, and has led the United States to victories in our regional competition, the CONCACAF (the Confederation of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean) Gold Cup, four times. Donovan has also made his career as one of the premier players of our national soccer league, Major League Soccer. His one failure in his career so far, is that he didn’t excel playing club soccer outside of the United States with three disappointing terms in Germany (two with Bayer Leverkeusen, and one with Bayern Munich), and two short loans to English club Everton. Well, to be fair he did have two productive loan turns with Everton, but the fact that he ran back to MLS instead of pushing to remain in England should be a negative mark on his record. While I do not know the inner workings of Jurgen Klinsmann’s mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if this train of thought wasn’t in his mind when he made this surprising selection.
Klinsmann, is a pro’s pro, and he had a distinguished career for both club and country. Klinsmann’s 17 year club career saw him play in leagues in Germany, France, Italy, and England. He won the German Bundesliga, the Italian Super Cup, as well as a UEFA Cup with Bayern Munich in 1996. Internationally, Klinsmann also has a World Cup winners medal when the Germans won the competition in 1990. The forward scored 47 goals with the German National Team, and 206 goals playing with his several club teams. In his prime he was an elite forward, as well as an intriguing off the field personality. He transitioned to management after his playing career was over with his stints as manager with Bayern Munich, and the German National Team which he led to 3rd place in the 2006 World Cup. Klinsmann as manager of the United States Men’s National Team expects committment, but he also expects flexibility from his squad.
At the end of the day I don’t think he saw those qualities in Donovan. When Jurgen took over the team in July 2011, Landon was entering a phase where he was looking to transition away from the game. He took time off from the National Team, and he took a sabbatical from his MLS team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, when he took a trip to Cambodia in 2012. He’s repeatedly expressed that he is mentally as well as physically fatigued, and that he is nearing the end of his career. He’s also not in very good shape. The committment it takes to prepare yourself to play 90 minutes a game, and to play three matches in about a 12 day period, as you’ll have to do in the first round of the World Cup, is something he’s not capable of right now. So, while many expressed shock on Twitter, this was a day I think many who follow domestic soccer as well as the United States Men’s National Team saw coming. While Donovan has been an excellent midfielder, as well as a second striker, the team has developed some intersting young talent that can take his place.
The 23 men who will take the trip to Brazil for a World Cup that kicks off on June 12th will face one hell of a tough group. Paired with the United States in the “Group of Death” that is Group G is Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. Germany is historically a tough opponent in international competition, Portugal boasts one of the best players in the game in Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ghana has knocked the United States out of the last two World Cups. The Stars and Stripes, also known as Sam’s Army, has a tough road next month, but the squad is younger, faster, and while they may not possess the technical ability of a Germany or Portugal, I like the fact that Klinsmann had the balls to not just give a spot to Donovan. It’s clear that Klinsmann selected a squad that will attempt to run rings around their opposition instead of trying to match their opposition’s technical prowess.
Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to do a World Cup preview for www.7poundbag.com, but with Landon Donovan becoming international news, you know your boy EJ had to put his two cents in. You know it. Thanks for reading. Peace.
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