To the surprise of pretty much every soccer fan in the States, national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced a few weeks ago that legendary forward Landon Donovan has not been selected as part of his World Cup roster.
In fact, surprise is perhaps an understatement. Shock and a fair degree of anger was perhaps more the order of the day. Donovan’s Los Angeles Galaxy coach and former US national team coach Bruce Arena commented with a slice of sarcasm, “If there are 23 better players than Landon, then we have a chance to win the World Cup.” And it is easy to see why 32-year-old Donovan is held in such high esteem. He is possibly the greatest ever American soccer player. With 57 goals to his name, Donovan has scored more goals than any other national team player in history. He also holds the record for assists, with 58, a full 36 more than his nearest rival. Donovan has also proven himself to be the man for the big occasion. No soccer fan will ever forget his last gasp winning goal against Algeria at World Cup 2010.
However, Klinsmann is a very experienced coach, having guided Germany to the World Cup semi-finals eight years ago. He indicated that Donovan only just missed the cut and that perhaps the Californian’s pace and energy isn’t quite what it used to be. What Klinsmann’s controversial decision has done though is pile plenty of pressure on the rest of his squad, most notably strikers Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. And then there are the younger members of the squad, who made the cut at Donovan’s expense – Josh Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin have just six international caps in total between them. Will their youthful exuberance and talent prove to be a worthwhile trade-off for the absence of Donovan?
Klinsmann certainly faces quite a challenge at the World Cup in Brazil. The national team must qualify from a group including Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Germany are one of the pre-tournament favourites, while Portugal includes a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. Meanwhile, Ghana also has plenty of talent to play with. It’s a tough task by any sportsbook estimate and a world cup win is highly improbable, but there is of course no certainty that Donavan would have made a difference. At least Klinsmann knows that even without Donovan, he can rely on a number of experienced and high-quality players in his squad. Goalkeeper Tim Howard remains one of the English Premier League’s best tenders, while Clint Dempsey knows the big occasion well and midfielder Michael Bradley’s energy and passing will be crucial.
And what of Donovan himself? Well, Donovan responded by doing what Donovan does best. Lining up for the LA Galaxy against Philadelphia, it took him just two minutes to send in a free-kick for Leonardo to open the scoring. And then on 50 minutes, he ran onto a Robbie Keane cross to score himself – It was Donovan’s 135th MLS regular season goal, another all-time record. Not a bad response to Klinsmann’s snub. And as if that wasn’t enough, Donovan added another goal with ten minutes left to play. His performance demonstrated the kind of desire and talent which has characterized Donovan’s career. Can Team America make do without it in Brazil? We will soon find out the answer.