Landon Donovan

Hello? What’s that? You’ve been jammed beneath a a rock? And you didn’t have a phone near you? You did but there was no WiFi and you don’t have an unlimited data plan?

Then you’re an idiot.

Fortunately, I pity the fool. Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT released their lineup Thursday night, after the apparent end to May’s camp and before the team’s game against Azerbaijan next Tuesday. The full list can be found here.

Notable ex- and inclusions to the roster: Edu OFF, Donovan OFF, Yedlin ON, Donovan OFF, Goodson OFF, Donovan OFF, Green ON, Brooks ON,

Oh, and Donovan didn’t make it.

Others excluded: Evans, Corona, Boyd, Parkhurst and Landon Donovan.

I was in a meeting (yes, I meet places. Not necessarily with other people, but still) when this broke, so my reaction was confined to a facial expression, which was more confusion than fury. Yes, Landon Donovan is probably the best player in USMNT history. Yes, he is better than Julian Green by miles. Yes, he did enough to make the roster and probably start.

So why did Jurgen do it? There’s a lot of consternation about this decision. Fear not, Daddy Sethy is here.

The way I see it, there are a few reasons why Jurgen did this, and I’ll try to analyze whether that possible reason merited dropping Landon. Of course, it’s all guesswork.

His Play

Go back 12 months, and Landon effectively pulled our ‘B’ team (hate that term, but anyway) into the Gold Cup final. He was playing like a man possessed, basically on the back of Jurgen demoting him, presumably informing the then-31 year old that he had to start over after his hiatus.

He was rewarded with call ups and starts. But since October, he hasn’t scored a professional goal. That’s fair, somewhat — the MLS season ended in December and started back up 3 months later. And to that point, Altidore hasn’t scored in God knows how long. But he has been inconsistent, plagued with injuries lately and getting older.

Recently, Landon Donovan told 30 for 30 that he couldn’t have 12 straight days of good practices (at the USMNT’s recent camp), that his body was breaking down. Jurgen probably didn’t like hearing that, and honestly I don’t either. The competition in the World Cup won’t be easy. Lots of games, quickly, in hot weather against world class opposition. Not a great sign to say that you can’t practice well consistently, after your coach asks for it.

Alone, I don’t think this reason merits him being dropped.

Jurgen wants youth

This seems hard to argue with. Logically, it seems that Jurgen replaced Landon with Julian Green. That’s tough to swallow: Julian Green has one first team appearance for Bayern, and one cap for the US (in which he played with energy and confidence, but still poorly). So why? Is it because he’s a player for the future? Were there certain conversations behind closed doors in order to get him to declare for the US about him making this roster? This seems a bit conspiracy theory-esque. Did Jurgen figure Julian could use a big confidence boost to push him?

I think Jurgen saw him as the next Landon Donovan, but with the possibility to be better. Green is in Europe, which Jurgen loves. He also chose the US over Germany, which is a big get for our country’s program. This was Landon’s last rodeo, probably some of his last games for the USMNT. He’s not that old, relatively speaking, but Jurgen loves youth (see: his Germany 2006 squad) and has a spotty personal record with Landon.

Still, choosing Julian’s complete inexperience over Landon is foolish and, in a way, setting him up for failure as much as success. It paints a target on his back. Plus, even if Landon doesn’t start, who would you rather have coming off the bench: Landon or Julian? True, Julian will be there in four years (presumably). Landon won’t. But if you’re trying to send that message, pick Julian over Wondo. Sure, Wondo had a good Gold Cup, but so did Landon. And Landon has a proven World Cup record. Bob Bradley chose Edson Buddle and Robbie Finley in 2010, and both fell flat. Wondo probably won’t get great minutes, but Landon would have.

Look, I’m not the biggest fan of Landon. I wasn’t terribly mad about his exclusion, but I’m still befuddled by it. I think if you’re looking to inject youth, you don’t do it now. And Landon worked (not the entire time; more on that later) to get this team into the World Cup; Julian didn’t.

His attitude

Landon took a hiatus in the winter of 2013, after the Galaxy won an MLS Cup. He said he was tired and needed to rejuvenate, so he wandered on down to Cambodia. I don’t think Jurgen appreciated that sort of thing too much. Sure, he was exhausted, but he made the choice to go on loan to Everton a few times, rather than make a permanent move to England or Europe. But he still didn’t come back to the States until April, effectively ditching LA and the USMNT in the meantime. I don’t think you can do that. If you’re tired, you have a conversation with your coaches. I’m not sure Landon didn’t do that with Jurgen or Bruce Arena; I’m really not sure if he did or not. Or if it was discussion or a one-sided, affirmative “I will go to Cambodia, see you in 4 months.” Either way, Jurgen didn’t appreciate it, hence the bump down to the Gold Cup squad.

As an American soccer fan, it can sometimes feel as if Landon Donovan is bigger than the sport and the team. Maybe it’s because he’s been around the team for so long (this would’ve been his 4th World Cup) or because of That Goal in 2010, but he’s just The Figure in American soccer. Has been for some time. And it’s not just that he’s the biggest name here. It’s that he seems to be the team. That’s how America sports are, though. Thanks ESPN/Obama.

So naturally, there’s anguish and fury at Jurgen because it’s not a prominent player being left off; it’s Landon freakin’ Donovan.

Exhibit A: All of social media. Exhibit B: This tweet from a friend of mine:

“I hope the US does well, obviously. But I’m not going to be overly upset if karma strikers. Donovan deserves better than this.”

Okay…maybe he does. He leads the US in goals, both boring and World Cup. He has the most WC apps and 2nd most boring apps. But does the team deserve the karma of crumbling because he isn’t on it? No. He is not bigger than the team. Jurgen isn’t. Sunil Gulati isn’t. Believe it or not, one day Landon Donovan won’t be playing soccer anymore. And the cultural existence of the sport within the American context will continue to exist. Has he helped make the sport in the US? Sure. But that doesn’t mean the sport in this country is his and his alone.

The funny thing, and perhaps this played into Jurgen’s thinking, that it seemed even Landon believed in his image. I mean, the guy decided to take a nice long hiatus to go wander the world. Had he been playing alot? Definitely, but by choice. You don’t get to leave and come back when you’d like to play again. Fortunately, his image is big enough in LA where he could get away with it. Not so much with Jurgen.

Furthermore, Landon was content with LA. He wasn’t interested in moving up. Sure, he played on loan, but that was it. There were certainly opportunities to move abroad, and whether it was rejected by MLS or not who knows. But it doesn’t sound like he pushed too hard. And Jurgen is big on European-based players. Landon wasn’t, and didn’t seem concerned about it.

In the last 12 months, he’s played the part of someone who doesn’t seem to care too much about soccer. He left when he wanted to and came back when he wanted to. Jurgen took notice, and didn’t forgive him. So now he’s gone. The game and the team live on. From here on out, let’s focus on the team. Landon Donovan shouldn’t be mentioned during this cycle. It’s a distraction, and we’re going to need all the focus and support possible.


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