Landon Donovan, widely considered the best male player in the history of United States soccer, was cut from the World Cup team Thursday as coach Jurgen Klinsmann trimmed his roster to 23 players.
Donovan is the career scoring leader for the national team with 57 goals and 58 assists. At 32, with 156 international appearances, he was seeking to play in the World Cup for the fourth time. At his best, Donovan possessed great vision, threatening speed, and a flair for the dramatic, as evidenced by his late goal against Algeria to send the US to the second round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Still, to anyone following the national team closely, Donovan’s exclusion did not come as a great surprise.
Klinsmann had openly questioned whether Donovan’s desire, commitment, and skill had ebbed to the point that less-experienced forwards such as Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson deserved instead to be named to the World Cup team along with Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
“I was looking forward to playing in Brazil, and as you can imagine, I am very disappointed with today’s decision,” Donovan said on his Facebook page. “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.”
In a somewhat surprising move, right back Brad Evans also was cut Thursday, along with forward Terrence Boyd, midfielders Joe Corona and Maurice Edu, and defenders Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst. Geoff Cameron, a 26-year-old defender from Attleboro, was named to the team.
As the US opened its training camp recently ahead of next month’s World Cup in Brazil, Klinsmann made clear to reporters that all roster spots would have to be earned and that none would be handed out as career achievement awards.
He also had come to view Donovan as a forward, no longer as an attacking midfielder, a role in which Donovan was often menacing as he splayed the middle of a defense or raced down the flank.
“I just see some other players slightly ahead of him,” Klinsmann told the Associated Press on Thursday. He added: “He knows I have the highest respect for him. But I have to make the decisions as of today. What is good today for this group going into Brazil.”
Recently, Klinsmann said “there’s no doubt what he did for US soccer” with the national team and with Los Angeles and San Jose in winning five titles in Major League Soccer.
“It’s amazing,” Klinsmann said. “You give him every compliment he deserves. But soccer is about what you do today, and what you hopefully do tomorrow. We’re not building the group based on the past.’’
Donovan did not endear himself to Klinsmann by taking a self-imposed four-month sabbatical from soccer in December 2012. He returned and played superbly in the 2013 Gold Cup last summer, but he was relegated to reserve duty last month for a friendly against Mexico. At the time, Klinsmann said Donovan lacked speed and insistence in training, hampered by a balky knee. He also appeared heavier than in the past.
Donovan’s absence could add more vulnerability to a fragile team that has historically struggled to score in the tournament. No US forward has delivered a goal in the World Cup since 2002.
Recently, goalkeeper Tim Howard predicted that Donovan would be a key to the US’s chances in a difficult World Cup group with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany.
“If Landon is on the field, he’s our top one or two players,” Howard told reporters.
Immediately, Klinsmann faced some criticism from some in the news media for cutting Donovan. Grant Wahl, a longtime soccer writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote that the decision would prove to be a mistake.
Donovan “may or may not be starter quality for the US anymore,” Wahl wrote, “but he figured to be at least a useful player to bring off the bench in Brazil with his vision and experience.”
Always candid and introspective, Donovan had seemed both resigned and excited in speaking to reporters in recent days. While conceding that injury and age had tempered his skill, and that he might have to play as a reserve, he said he remained confident in his ability and thought he deserved to be on the World Cup team.
Still, he told reporters, “I have to prove that, and I have to earn it.”
While he did not have the youthful energy and excitement that accompanied his first appearance in the World Cup, in 2002, Donovan said, “I see the game and I see the situation a lot more clearly now, so I’m able to, I think, enjoy it more in that way.”
Full US World Cup roster:
|Jozy Altidore||F||6-1||175||24||Boca Raton, Fla.||Sunderland (England)|
|DaMarcus Beasley||D||5-8||145||32||Fort Wayne, Ind.||Puebla (Mexico)|
|Kyle Beckerman||M||5-10||165||32||Crofton, Md.||Real Salt Lake (MLS)|
|Alejandro Bedoya||M||5-10||160||27||Weston, Fla.||Nantes (Frances)|
|Matt Belser||D||6-0||170||27||Overland Park, Kan.||Sporting K.C. (MLS)|
|Michael Bradley||M||6-2||175||26||Manhattan Beach, Calif.||Toronto FC (MLS)|
|John Brooks||D||6-4||170||21||Berlin||Hertha Berlin (Germany)|
|D||6-3||185||26||Attleboro, Mass.||Stoke City (England)|
|Timothy Chandler||D||6-1||180||24||Frankfurt||Nuremberg (Germany)|
|Brad Davis||M||5-11||165||32||St. Charles, Mo.||Houston Dynamo (MLS)|
|Clint Dempsey||F||6-1||170||31||Nacogdoches, Texas||Seattle Sounders FC (MLS)|
|Mix Diskerud||M||6-0||150||23||Oslo||Rosenborg (Norway)|
|Omar Gonzalez||D||6-5||210||25||Dallas||LA Galaxy (MLS)|
|Julian Green||M||5-7||140||18||Tampa||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Brad Guzan||G||6-4||210||29||Homer Glen, Ill.||Aston Villa (England)|
|Tim Howard||G||6-3||210||35||North Brunswick, N.J.||Everton (England)|
|Aron Johannsson||F||6-0||165||23||Mobile, Ala.||AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)|
|Fabian Johnson||D||6-0||155||26||Munich||Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany)|
|Jermaine Jones||M||6-0||170||32||Chicago||Besiktas (Turkey)|
|Nick Rimando||G||5-11||180||34||Montclair, Calif.||Real Salt Lake (MLS)|
|Chris Wondolowski||F||6-0||165||31||Danville, Calif.||San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)|
|DeAndre Yedlin||D||5-8||150||20||Seattle||Seattle Sounders FC (MLS)|
|Graham Zusi||M||5-10||160||27||Longwood, Fla.||Sporting Kansas City|