SCOTT PETERSON - Friday, May 23, 2014
Breaking up is hard to do. Even when you know it's right.
Jürgen Klinsmann has repeatedly stated that his long-term goal is to raise the profile of soccer in the US.
After last night, he's on the right track.
When was the last time US media outlets spoke of soccer as anything more than an afterthought? When the US plays there is interest, but there is rarely scrutiny.
Landygate seems to have changed that.
It case you missed it, Landon Donovan, the all-time leading everything in US soccer, was cut from the final 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.
And the news made waves across the US with ESPN, ABC and even NPR covering the cut heard round the world-foreign outlets like England's SkySports and Germany's kicker also devoted coverage.
The decision is not as puzzling as people would make it seem.
Jimmy Conrad was indignant, Alexis Lalas more measured. And there seems to be a backlash towards his replacement starlet Julian Green.
More on him in a minute.
In the premiere episode of Roger Bennett's excellent "Inside: U.S. Soccer's March to Brazil" Donovan came out and said "I can't train twelve straight days in a row and have 12 straight great days in a row. Physically, it's not possible. My body breaks down. I'm getting older."
Built-in excuses and admissions of eroding skills. Not exactly what you want to hear from someone fighting for a spot on the plane to Brazil.
It has been Donovan's blue-collar work ethic and pace that have made him effective both domestically and internationally. By hinting at his own resignation to father time, and admitting that his skills are not what they once were, no matter how true, are things that do not enter the mind of a determined athlete.
There may also be locker room issues with Donovan, as he recently made some public comments about his heir apparent Green.
"He made a play in the Mexico game in limited minutes that could have potentially changed the game in our favor. He also made some bad passes and some bad plays. [He needs] to play some games and get his feet under him before we make any determination about how much he's going to help."
But possible chemistry issues or a calculating decision by Klinsmann to exclude Donovan is pure speculation. Furthermore, taking a highly-touted prospect to a World Cup is not without precedence as Brazil took Il Fenomeno Ronaldo to USA '94.
Granted Green has a LONG way to go before earning a place in the same sentence as Ronaldo, but the young striker has heaps of potential and can do things now that no other player in the US player pool can.
Back to Donovan:
Based on recent performance, it is a wash. He has put in decent performances of late scoring against Mexico to clinch a berth to the World Cup, while looking like a passenger in the 2-2 friendly versus El Tri in April.
Donovan's own greatness in the past was probably his undoing. He may have been able to contribute, and maybe he still will if there is an injury, but for his own lofty standards and with the depth the US has, merely a contributing Donovan was not enough.
For all that he has done, and as hard as it is to accept the decision to dump Donovan, there is plenty of justification for doing so.
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