On Landon Donovan and the US men’s World Cup roster

Jurgen Klinsmann dropped a bomb: Landon Donovan is not going to the World Cup.

The reaction to that decision has been negative, to say the least. Our own Dan Walsh thinks Klinsmann has made a grave error, essentially punting on 2014. It’s hard to argue otherwise. Unless physically or mentally handicapped in some way, Donovan is definitely one of the U.S.’s 23 best players, if not in the best 11.

So why do it?

It’s about the future

Whether it’s truly the case that Klinsmann does not believe the U.S. will be able to escape the group stage this June, the roster he selected is certainly geared toward creating the U.S.’s team of the future. Bringing in young players—not just the fringe ones, like Julian Green and John Brooks, but also guys like Mix Diskerud and DeAndre Yedlin—rather than Brad Evans, Clay Goodson, and Eddie Johnson, who didn’t even make the final 30, is about building a team that will lead the U.S. into later tournaments. It’s about christening the next generation of U.S. players.

But is it too soon?

Most people think it’s too soon. Donovan, surely, deserved one final major tournament for his service to the national team cause, and, beyond sentiment, leaving him home weakens the team. Regardless of the desire to build for the future, the U.S. wants to see its best team fly to Brazil, and this doesn’t seem to be it.

Are the futures of the young German-Americans brought in at the old-heads’ expense so bright that it’s worth sacrificing a World Cup to see them blossom? What of Brad Davis and Chris Wondolowski? Both are very good players in their own rights, but neither can contribute as much as a fit and firing Donovan.

While Klinsmann has said otherwise, this seems like anything but a sporting decision. Which begs a question.

What happens if things go sideways in Brazil?

What happens if the U.S. loses to Ghana? What if Portugal and Germany beat them, too? What if the U.S. midfield fails to click, and the speed and guile of Landon Donovan is sorely lacking?

Whether he would have helped or not, if the U.S. struggles, the narrative will be about how Donovan wasn’t there. How Klinsmann left him behind.

Klinsmann just signed a contract keeping him in charge of the team beyond 2014, and increasing his role at U.S. Soccer. The federation has made clear they want him in charge going forward, regardless of results this summer. That’s admirable, in many ways, as Klinsmann has brought the U.S. forward a great deal since his hiring, and the work was always about more than one World Cup cycle. But it will be difficult to quiet the anger from fans if the team does not perform well at the World Cup. With this decision, Klinsmann has alienated a large portion of a fan-base that had come to support him vigorously, and the stakes have been raised, emotionally.

And, if fan anger drives the federation to fire Klinsmann, will his successor keep faith with the young German-American core Klinsmann has built? Perhaps not, in which case Klinsmann’s decision to leave Donovan and others out would truly have been meaningless.

The roster

But all of this is just speculation. Of the 23 men selected, who is most likely to actually see the field?

If you’ve been watching the team in the last 18 months, the good news is that the strongest parts of the squad, Donovan excepted, are still here. Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Aron Johannsson are here. Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, and Fabian Johnson are here. As are Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, and Tim Howard. So, too, familiar faces like Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, and Alejandro Bedoya.

While the back line is still in flux (that was to be expected, regardless of who was chosen for the team), the rest of the lineup will be familiar to supporters. Donovan’s absence does open a hole, of course. Will Johnson play in midfield, to give the U.S. creativity going forward, or will he play at fullback, and give starting opportunities to Diskerud or Johannsson?

Final thoughts

The team that takes the field on June 16 against Ghana will still be one of the strongest the U.S. has ever produced.


It will also be missing the greatest American player in history. Landon Donovan may be 32. He may have had fitness and mental commitment issues in the not-so-distant past. But reports are that he is fit and focused.

Or was, anyway.

It’s going to be genuinely strange watching the team without him in it. With Donovan, there was always a chance. We all remember Algeria in 2010. Donovan did that.

And now?

It’s up to the next generation to start creating memories.

US 2014 World Cup roster

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

Midfielders (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Forwards Terrence Boyd and Landon Donovan, midfielders Joe Corona and Maurice Edu, and defenders Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst are all considered on stand by.


  1. Personally I was meh when I heard it. It ain’t like I thought we were getting out of the group and no we’re not. Plus I am not one for sentimentality in sports. He is older and FAR from what he was.

    This program has been about transition the moment we hired JK and I’ve never stopped looking forward to 2018 and beyond. We made some progress, but not enough. We need to continue to look for actual soccer talent and I have no problem with the younger players (yes, Green) being given a spot.

  2. I totally agree with your argument, but it hinges on one key factor – “a fit and firing” Landon. He has looked anything but fit this year in MLS.

  3. Mike Eidle says:

    Personally I can’t tell if Landon is fit or not from his MLS play – whenever I see him for the Galaxy he spends most of the game falling over and then crying to the referee. Maybe he should be there but it’s up to the one guy in US soccer who has ever won a world cup – so I’ll support Klinsmann’s decision.

  4. I like the comments above, and one point not being brought up, he’s not faster than the guys on the wings now and he can’t play the 4-4-2 diamond. I respect Donovan immensely but let’s go forward. Also why isn’t anyone hailing the accomplishment of DeMarcus Beasley?!

  5. I love Landon and in my heart feel that he should be on the roster. That being said I have to ask did Landon really want to be there? To me he has been sending mixed signals. If you are really committed to being on the roster then you leave no doubt about it. Landon is the greatest player the USA has produced and has set the standard for others to live up to. Perhaps Landon couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of “Landon’s” way.

    • Great point, I thought it odd that he told the press a few days ago that he wasn’t “a lock” for the team. That’s when the thought crossed my mind he wouldn’t be on the flight.

      • To that point does he even want to play soccer period? He just seems at times to be of two minds about his joy and love for the game. If you’re just going through the motions than it’s probably time to step aside. Selfishly I wish we could see him one more time on the world stage.

      • I think the coach told him to say it, prepare the media kind of thing.

  6. I could agree with the comments above if I thought the decision was just based on declining skills and performance but I don’t. This was personal. This was making a statement and the USMNT is worse than it could be for it.

    • Unless you happen to know Klinsmann personally and he shared this with you, that is a pretty bold statement to make.
      I don’t think any of us are qualified to say “this is personal”. Top of mind: (1) We did not see how everyone performed in training. (2) His on-field performance in MLS has not been up to par. (3) He has been battling injury leading up to this and admitted to it affecting his performance in training.
      I have no problem with this. Bottom line, Donovan has not been fit and firing.

      • Thanks Mark. My take away from your comment is that you think I’m bold. 🙂

        Seriously, as I stated, this is what I think and I don’t believe it is a stretch. Donovan’s hiatus from soccer clearly didn’t sit well with Klinsman and he noticeably cooled toward him from that point on. Debate as to how fit he is and whether or not he’s firing is understandable, but whether or not he should be in the 23 is not. That is, in my opinion, if that makes you feel better.

    • +1
      The guy takes off for 4 months to get his head straight, then comes back and wins Golden Boot in Gold Cub 10 months ago along with 7 assists.
      Gotta think we are better with even an 80% Landon than with a Davis or Greene.
      Just watched this one:

  7. Just what does “on stand by” mean? How does that mechanism work?

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      Basically, if members of the 23 get injured, they can be replaced by the seven guys that were in camp and cut.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        Falsish. Anyone eligible for the Unites States National Team can replace an injured player from the 23 man official roster. So the 7 that were cut or anyone else could be called in. You did not have to be invited to camp to be eligible as an injury replacement.

      • Jeremy Lane says:

        True, but the odds of someone not called into camp being called up is extremely low.

    • it works like…”ROLL ON 2!”

  8. that set of strikers does not exactly fill me with confidence for US 🙁

    • from your fingertips to God’s ears.
      my prediction is this is the final time we see Jozy Altidore.
      Hummels and Pepe are going to close him down.

  9. Atomic spartan says:

    32 year old fading forward vs Brazilian heat and humidity may have entered into the coach’s decision

  10. McMohansky says:

    I thought this was supposed to be the counter-point to Dan’s piece, but it basically takes the same line of argument without the made-for-twitter punch.
    Jeremy, you write in the first paragraph, “Unless physically or mentally handicapped in some way, Donovan is definitely one of the U.S.’s 23 best players”. But he is clearly handicapped in both ways. Damaged goods at best.
    To reiterate Dan and posit JK does not think the team can advance is crazy. You may think that, and you can say that, but the USMNT coach would never say that and to even bring it up as a debatable point is just wrong.
    It is possible JK is bringing the squad he feels has the best chance to succeed this World Cup AND is helping the USMNT in the future. But that would be a boring angle to take, especially when every other media outlet is milking the personal drama.

  11. Great One says:

    This argument that we are looking to the future is insane. The World Cup is once every FOUR years. Excuse my language, but do not give me the looking to the future bullshit. Everyone needs a reality check here. When going to the World Cup you bring your best 23 players, period.

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