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Friday morning, after dropping a nuclear bomb with no warning – the USA’s 23-man World Cup roster without Landon Donovan – out of the clear blue sky on a Thursday afternoon at Stanford, Jurgen Klinsmann faced the media.
Klinsmann has talked about the US Soccer media as soft and friendly compared to their counterparts around the world in the past, and his biggest grudge is our reverence at the alter of the man known as Donovan.
It was no surprise that the media mostly sided with Donovan after Thursday’s roster announcement, and no surprise that Friday morning’s press conference was the most difficult Klinsmann has faced in his three-year tenure as USA manager.
A hero lay slain, and the man holding the sword had to face the people.
Klinsmann, of course, is not going to make a press conference blunder. He talks so easily, so bubbly, so vivaciously, that he’d sound good selling televisions at Best Buy.
Klinsmann spoke for more than 20 minutes, but he never said anything of substance. While he didn’t back down from any question – including the inevitable one about his son’s classless tweet – he retreated to vagueness when discussing why he left America’s best player and only true legend of the game at home for his final World Cup.
When Donovan asked for an explanation, Klinsmann said, “I tried to lay out a couple of reasons, and those are technical parts — I’m not going into these details right now. I said I hoped for his understanding and that he stands really by us.”
Klinsmann also said that Donovan didn’t understand. That he thought he should have been in the 23. And while Donovan surely knew that all was not right in his week at Stanford, I’m sure he never thought in his heart of hearts that Klinsmann would drop kick his international career into the Pacific Ocean.
The decision to leave out Donovan doesn’t make sense any way you cut it. The timing is brutal. He wasn’t afforded the chance to retire with dignity. Instead, he was put on JV.
It has to be a personal decision. While Klinsmann certainly gambled on youth and cut a ton of MLS players for their German-American counterparts, he included Chris Wondolowski and Brad Davis at Donovan’s expense.
Davis is Donovan’s age – 32 – and nowhere near as fast, let alone talented. Wondolowski is one year younger than Donovan. DeMarcus Beasley made this team with ease, and he’s also Donovan’s age.
In fact, the US is the second oldest team in Group G right now. It wasn’t about age. It was about Donovan.
Clint Dempsey is also 31. The slump he went through last season was far deeper and more hopeless than the stretch Donovan is going through right now. But he was never questioned. And Jozy Altidore, owner of the mother of all USMNT slumps, is one of the first names on the teamsheet. This wasn’t about form. It was about Donovan.
My bet is that no one is as bewildered as Brad Davis on why he made the team ahead of a living legend like Donovan.
This entire team selection just feels wrong.
Timothy Chandler? He hasn’t played for the US in 14 months, and has usually been lukewarm on getting called up in the first place.
I was just as worried about Brad Evans facing Cristiano Ronaldo as anyone – though it now appears Ronaldo got off easy – but he was the guy scoring the game-winner in Jamaica.
Clarence Goodson was the guy shutting out Mexico during Dos A Cero V. John Brooks was getting smoked in Cyprus against Ukraine and getting benched by his club team because he got a tattoo and therefore couldn’t play.
I don’t like the Julian Green silver bullet deal. I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence and suggest that somehow Green earned his spot despite not playing a single minute for his German third-division team since March. He got his place in return for his commitment to the US.
For the record, Bruce Arena had a chance to make the same deal with Giuseppi Rossi before the 2006 World Cup. He didn’t do it. And he was right to not make that deal, even if Rossi has turned into a fantastic player.
It’s instinctually wrong to make that kind of a deal. It robs deserving players of their place. It’s wrong for a player to want that kind of deal.
It also should be noted that an American coach – Arena, Bob Bradley (who, by the way, is lighting the world on fire with Stabaek), Steve Sampson, anyone – would never have cut Donovan. Only a foreigner would have cut Donovan. And a foreigner with a lot of guts.
Klinsmann almost never praised Donovan in these last three years, which is why it was interesting to hear Klinsmann praise Donovan today: “He has done an amazing job the last 10 days since he’s here and he’s done everything right,” he said.
Klinsmann went on to praise Donovan’s game, the way it’s changed in the past few years. It was weird to realize that Klinsmann actually watches Donovan and understands his strengths.
This was personal. It was dramatic, and it was a low-blow. Look at the sabbatical if you want, but I’d go back to Bayern Munich in 2009.
In ’09, Klinsmann was the Bayern coach. He was under fire, and in January, his game-plan was to bring in Landon Donovan on loan. Living in Southern California, Klinsmann watched Donovan and knew him well.
Things didn’t pan out. Donovan, in limited time, didn’t play his best, and soon after, Klinsmann was fired. Their relationship hasn’t been harmonious since. Alexi Lalas called Klinsmann’s final act with Donovan, “vindictive.”
Jon Klinsmann’s tweet – not the HAHAHAHAHA tweet – but the – Brad Davis isn’t going because he’s a better player, but because he’ll work harder and wants to be there tweet, points towards that claim.
Bad guy to fall out with, Jurgen. I get Eddie Johnson’s omission. He’s not a role player. But Donovan would have been fine being a role player. He’s a genuinely well-liked, good guy.
The German tenacity of Klinsmann doesn’t jive with the introspective, take-it-slow, Southern California nature of Donovan. Fine. But to fall out in this way with Donovan? I didn’t see it coming. I don’t think Donovan did either.
Martin Vasquez was fired and replaced with Berti Vogts just two months ago. At the time, we knew all wasn’t well. I wonder what Donovan had to do with that coaching change.
Klinsmann’s contradictions – that he wants everyone to work hard and yet he brings in Chandler and Green – are draining. I’d be incensed if I’m a senior US player – someone like Tim Howard, who said that the “senior players love Donovan.”
How does the US lineup work out now? If Fabian Johnson plays defense, we’re looking at Alejandro Bedoya in midfield with Julian Green or Brad Davis coming off the bench. If Johnson gets pushed into the midfield, DeMarcus Beasley and Chandler are the fullbacks. It’s not a pretty picture.
I don’t know what Klinsmann thinks he’s doing. But this campaign feels like it’s one misstep away from total destruction.