The omission of Landon Donovan from this year’s USMNT World Cup Squad is both surprising and not.
Donovan’s performances in recent months – for club and country – have been below his usual standard. He’s not the player he once was, but fair or not, he’s set such a high standard that we still hold him to it.
Moreover, he himself has said he is not as fit as in previous years and even has trouble getting motivated to continue playing. From where I’m sitting, I can see how a player like him, who’s given a lot of himself to his country and his sport, might just be burned out.
That said, it was always going to be surprising to see a player of his stature excluded from the WC squad. I think that’s testament both to his talent and accomplishments and to how much we as US fans had invested in him.
But as much as I appreciate the memories LD has given his country’s supporters, I’m fine with him being left out of the squad.
I am not one of those who believe that Donovan should be included on the World Cup squad solely on the basis of past performance. It’s completely reasonable for Jurgen Klinsmann to have looked at Donovan’s performances for his club and in recent training camps and said “Not good enough.” (Yes, even great players have times when they play badly. This is not news)
And yet I don’t think that this exclusion should be used as an opportunity to heap scorn on the player for its own sake or in pursuit of some faux objectivity. (I was one of those who had zero problem with Donovan taking his much-talked about sabbatical)* Donovan’s been a superb player for the USMNT, given 14 years to the team and been clutch in countless situations. If anyone earned a mental health break, it was him.
Nor do I think everyone should be second guessing Jurgen Klinsmann** As some of have noted, Klinsmann has a history of shaking up team selection – i.e., dropping big stars in favor of younger players. This situation isn’t particularly unique (though you’d certainly think so based on all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that’s greeted this announcement).
As noted – in this space and elsewhere – the US has been drawn into group that will be almost impossible to get out of. I’m not convinced that Landon Donovan’s presence would have significantly improved our ability to advance to the round of 16, especially given the inconsistent form he’s shown recently.
That said, if the US has an especially poor showing at the tournament, the second guessing of this decision will be ratcheted up. Significantly.
*I know we think it’s an athlete’s job to run himself into the ground until he can no longer play, at which time he can fade into obscurity and we can stop giving fucks about him, but I disagree. We as fans are, in fact, not entitled to an athlete’s whole life and person.
**This is coming from someone who’s not entirely sold on Klinsmann as USMNT manager.