In a surprising – if not stunning – turn of events, Jurgen Klinsmann has left Landon Donovan off of the U.S. World Cup roster.
Donovan, 32, is widely considered the best soccer player in U.S. men’s history.
“Nobody expected this announcement would come down when it did,” Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “The deadline is actually June 2. (Klinsmann) went ahead and dropped the hammer (Thursday) and sent shockwaves through American soccer.”
Klinsmann and Donovan have a history together – and not just since Klinsmann became the U.S. coach three years ago.
In 2009, Klinsmann, who was then the manager of Bayern Munich, brought Donovan to Germany on loan from Los Angeles. It was Klinsmann’s way of telling management that he wanted to sign Donovan as a free agent.
Donovan, however, underperformed – and Klinsmann lost his job.
“The director of Bayern was surprised that he put so much faith in Donovan, and Donovan didn’t live up to expectations during that short loan,” Wahl said. “Really, Klinsmann never had that much faith – full faith – in him again. He lost his job. He was fired from Bayern a couple months later. Once he became the U.S. coach in 2011, he and Donovan just never seemed to be on the same page.”
It didn’t help that Donovan took a three-month sabbatical last year.
“He felt sort of wiped out (and) felt like he didn’t have the will, the motivation, he used to have, so he stepped away from the game,” Wahl explained. “That included not being involved with a U.S. World Cup qualifier in Honduras that the U.S. lost, and I think Donovan’s teammates weren’t entirely happy with that. Klinsmann wasn’t entirely happy with that. And then Donovan sort of had to earn back his spot in the B-team Gold Cup last summer. He played very well, the U.S. won the tournament, and it seemed like Donovan was back in the good graces with the national team and would be playing during the World Cup. But that’s the not the case.”
Klinsmann’s decision is all the more perplexing given how good Donovan had looked in training camp.
“This is the weird thing,” Wahl said. “They’ve been in training camp for a little over a week in California, and Klinsmann said a lot of nice things about Donovan – that he was giving maximum effort, that he was doing everything right. But the decision speaks otherwise. All Klinsmann would say is there were some technical aspects of Donvoan’s play that he didn’t think made him the right choice ahead of the guys who did make the roster. That’s a little hard maybe to accept.”
Julian Green, 18, DeAndre Yedlin, 20, and John Brooks, 21, were named to the 23-man roster.
Klinsmann has performed well since taking over as U.S. head coach. The United States had a record winning streak last year, they won the Gold Cup and they qualified for the World Cup. That’s all well and good, but Klinsmann will be judged for how his team performs this summer in Brazil
“That really is everything,” Wahl said. “Does he take the U.S. to the next level?”
Without the greatest men’s soccer in U.S. history, the answer, it seems, would be no.