Michelle Kaufman

May 25, 2014

Michelle Kaufman: Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to exclude classy Landon Donovan bold, questionable

It remains to be seen whether Jurgen Klinsmann can lead the U.S. national team to the knockout rounds of the World Cup, but one thing is certain: The guy isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, and he is not influenced by the media.

It remains to be seen whether Jurgen Klinsmann can lead the U.S. national team to the knockout rounds of the World Cup, but one thing is certain: The guy isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, and he is not influenced by the media.

He proved it by leaving Landon Donovan off his 23-man roster for Brazil. Donovan, 32, is not as fit or fast as he once was. He has struggled to find burning passion for the game at times in recent years, which is why he took a four-month hiatus in 2013. He thought he needed more than soccer in his life. He thought his personal growth had been stunted by focusing all his energy on soccer, and wanted to become a more complete person. He visited Cambodia, did some soul-searching, and said he came back reenergized.

Nevertheless, the time off did not sit well with Klinsmann, and the coach made that very clear. He has been saying for the past year that Donovan is not untouchable, that he needed to work his way back on to the team. Klinsmann apparently thought he hadn’t, and dumped him.

It was a bold move, but one that could hurt the team more than help it.

Donovan, 32, is the face of American soccer. He is the one player even fringe fans could name. He is a great ambassador for the sport in this country.

He is the all-time leading scorer in U.S. history. He scored five goals in the past three World Cups, including the memorable game-winner against Algeria in South Africa four years ago. It isn’t easy to score five goals in World Cups. Very few people have. Surely, with his vast experience, he would have been a leader in a locker room filled with World Cup rookies.

I have to think he adds more than 18-year-old Julian Green, one of five German-Americans on the team, sons of U.S. military fathers and German mothers. Green grew up in Germany and has just one appearance in a U.S. jersey. He has talent and a great upside, and surely Klinsmann sees something he likes in the kid, but it’s hard to believe he will contribute more to the U.S. team than Donovan could have.

Klinsmann said of the decision: “This is certainly one of the toughest decisions — the toughest decision in my coaching career — to tell a player like him with everything he’s done and what he represents, to tell him that you’re not part of those 23 right now. I just see some other players slightly ahead of him.”

“The last 10 days [in camp] he did everything right. He was always positive, he took it the best way possible. So his disappointment is huge. I totally understand that. He took it very professional, because he’s an outstanding professional player and he knows that I have the highest respect for him.

“But I have to make the decisions as of today. I have to make the decisions what is good today for this group going into Brazil and I just think that the other guys right now are a little bit ahead of him and I told him that. And he understands it, but obviously he’s very disappointed.”

Donovan posted this message on Facebook to his fans: “It has been an honor and privilege to have represented the US National Team in three World Cups. I was looking forward to playing in Brazil and, as you can imagine, I am very disappointed with today’s decision. Regardless, I will be cheering on my friends and teammates this summer, and I remain committed to helping grow soccer in the US in the years to come. Thanks for all your support, Landon.”

Class act.

The reaction to Donovan’s snub was mostly shock.

One of the most pointed responses came from former MLS player Jimmy Conrad. He wrote on Twitter: “Just double checking my math. 1 cap, no 1st team minutes with club team > 156 caps, 5 World Cup goals, best player in U.S. history. Got it.”

I have to say. I don’t disagree. It is a questionable move. The team might do great without him, but it is sad and seems wrong that Donovan won’t get to participate in a fourth World Cup, that he was not deemed worthy of one of the 23 seats on that airplane. Seems he earned that right with all he did for American soccer.

Miami fans rally

David Beckham’s group unveiled its plans for a downtown Major League Soccer stadium and waterfront park Thursday, and the news conference ended with a small group of rabid fans with MLS scarves and banners chanting and singing in the back of the room.

They were members of the Southern Legion, a fan group that strongly supports Beckham’s plans, and they hope their numbers grow in the coming months. They plan to drum up support during the World Cup and will be canvassing youth soccer clubs and bars/restaurants known for soccer-loving clientele.

“We’re celebrating an idea,” David Briceno said. “It’s kind of hard to sell an idea to someone without something physical there. I have a ton of friends who are soccer supporters. They support Barcelona, Madrid, Bayern Munich. I ask them why don’t you come to these events and spread the soccer love? They said, there’s no actual team. It’s just an idea. Once you get the team, you’ll get the people. Right now we’re the crazy guys showing up in the hopes this idea becomes fully realized. We’re doing the dirty work, in the trenches. Once there’s something there they can see and wear, I think it will completely change. This city will go crazy for this team.”

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