Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported on Tuesday afternoon that sources indicate Landon Donovan will likely be excluded during June’s World Cup qualifiers by U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The U.S. Soccer Federation hasn’t commented on the report, but Wahl’s track record is generally very high for this sort of news.
Last month Klinsmann revealed Donovan’s spot in the U.S. lineup wasn’t guaranteed moving forward. At the time it seemed like a reasonable take following Donovan’s self-imposed sabbatical from soccer, which caused him to miss the three qualifiers played earlier in 2013.
Now, with Donovan slow to regain his form with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the decision to leave him out of the games against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras doesn’t seem that far fetched. The U.S. is currently second in the six-team CONCACAF hexagonal the top three teams automatically qualify for the World Cup next June in Brazil.
Klinsmann hasn’t exactly endeared himself to American fans since taking the job in 2011, but he should be applauded for sticking to his convictions and leaving Donovan out of the mix. Although he’s used a different starting XI in every game in charge, one thing the German-born coach does seem to value are the very American ideals of “togetherness” and “team spirit.” Opting to make yourself unavailable so you can go to Cambodia for a couple days would seem to go against this line of thinking.
It’s odd Klinsmann would decide take sure a hard line stance against the most prominent American soccer player of his generation, but he’s showing the team itself is more important than any individual. Donovan wasn’t around when the U.S. won against Costa Rica in the snow in Denver, nor was he there when the team ground out a draw at the Azteca against Mexico. Would it be fair to the other players to let Donovan, even if he is the United State’s all-time leading international scorer, waltz back into the squad after all that’s transpired?
The decision to put soccer on hold because he was burnt out was Donovan’s and Donovan’s alone. He had his reasons and they’re certainly justifiable, but the consequence of that decision is that Klinsmann and the rest of the American squad apparently aren’t ready to welcome him back with open arms quite yet.
For all the talent Donovan still might have in boots, for all he’s done for U.S. soccer this century, in this particular case he put his own needs ahead of the national team’s during a crucial moment in qualifying.
The U.S. can and will move on without him. Next man up, as the saying goes.
And if they get into trouble, it’s a safe bet Klinsmann still has Donovan’s number in his phone.