Well, here’s a shocker: former U.S. star Landon Donovan disagreed with national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann about a personnel decision as 2018 World Cup qualifying matches got under way this weekend.
Donovan, whom Klinsmann left off the World Cup roster last summer, thinks the coach made a mistake leaving veteran forward Clint Dempsey off the current roster for the first two qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The United States routed St. Vincent and the Grenadines 6-1 in St. Louis on Friday night, and plays at Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.
Klinsmann told reporters during training camp in Miami last week that he left Dempsey out because he wants to take a good look at younger players such as Stanford junior Jordan Morris, the Portland Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe (a Liberian-American who became a U.S. citizen in September), and Bobby Wood, a Hawaiian who plays in Germany and scored game-winning goals in friendlies against the Netherlands and Germany, and also scored a crucial goal against Mexico last month, although the U.S. team wound up losing that match.
“We know Clint inside out, what he gives the program, and he’s always there,” Klinsmann said. “We want the young players to come out of their shell more and more, and make a point. … We want to give the younger guys a chance, and that sometimes comes at the expense of the more experienced guys.”
Donovan, the all-time leading scorer for the United States, doesn’t think World Cup qualifying is a time to experiment with the roster. The roster for these two games includes 10 players with no World Cup experience. Klinsmann said he needs to start meshing new blood with the experienced players.
“If I’m the manager, I want Clint to be part of what we’re doing — period, end of story,” Donovan told Goal.com.
“Maybe if it’s a friendly game, that’s different and you can start to look at other players. But in a World Cup qualifier, there’s no room for error. This round of qualifying on paper isn’t as difficult as the final round of qualifying, but there are only six games. If you throw away a game or two games, you might not even advance to the next round.
“I didn’t agree with it. I think most of the U.S. soccer community didn’t agree with it. But it is what it is.”
Klinsmann is very high on Morris, who chose to take the college route and has been a star on the U.S. under-23 team. He is the first college player called up to the senior national team since 1999, and the first to score for the national team since 1992. He has blazing speed and a knack for finding the back of the net.
Morris, who recently turned 21, scored against Mexico in April and had an assist on the game-winning goal against the Netherlands. He has made five appearances for the senior national team this year and 11 for the U-23 team, combining for six goals and four assists.
“Jordan Morris is one of most promising talents we have in the United States,” Klinsmann said.
“He’s a player who can make a difference. Has some tools in his portfolio, like speed, like taking people on one against one, having a nose for the goal, finishing things off or making the final assist. Those are things we are looking for in young players, especially young strikers.”
The question now is what Morris will do at the end of this college season. Will he turn pro? And if so, will he play in Major League Soccer or go abroad?
“His decision to stay with Stanford for the time right now is totally supported by us,” Klinsmann said. “We try to give him as many high quality games as we can. Under-23, he did well. I brought him in whenever I could, gave him minutes. Now, as it gets closer to the time for a decision for him if he goes pro at the end of the college season, where does he go?
“So far, it went OK, the right direction. But he knows tempo, speed, is another kind of dimension. … He’s well-equipped for the pro game, and sooner or later he has to step it up and do it.”
On the tube
Monday: UEFA Euro qualifying, Ireland vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (2:45 p.m. FS1).
Tuesday: UEFA Euro qualifying, Denmark vs. Sweden (2:45 p.m., ESPN2), CONCACAF World Cup qualifier, U.S. vs. Trinidad and Togabo (6:30 p.m., BeINSport).