Earlier this week, Jurgen Klinsmann named his squad for the upcoming World Cup. Landon Donovan, the face of American soccer and for my money the best player we’ve ever produced, was not included.
Did Klinsmann make the right call? I doubt it.
There’s no question but that at age 32 and with 156 games played for the national team, Donovan isn’t the player he once was. Klinsmann is almost certainly correct when he says that Donovan “maybe is not the one now anymore to go one against one all the time or [go] into the box or finish off.” It certainly looks like he’s not the one to do all of this for 90 minutes.
But if the U.S. World Cup campaign gets off the ground at all in the “Group of Death,” then the time will come when Klinsmann looks down his bench for a player who can get or create one late, crucial goal. Is each of the six attacking players selected by Klinsmann better equipped than Donovan to get or create that goal, as the ex-Everton player did so dramatically against Algeria to enable the U.S. to advance at the 2010 World Cup?
I don’t think so. Indeed, with the exception of Clint Dempsey, I’m not sure any of Klinsmann’s attacking selections is better equipped. This isn’t like Spain dropping the great Raul before Euro 2008. There is no American Fernando Torres or David Villa.
The debate may prove moot. It may well turn out that the U.S. could not have advanced out of a group consisting of Germany, Portugal, and Ghana even with Landon Donovan in his prime. Or maybe one or more of our second-line attackers will help lift the U.S. into the latter stages of the tournament, thus validating Klinsmann’s decision.
But I’d feel better about our chances if the U.S. squad included the most talented attacking player ever to come through U.S. soccer who, after all, is still only 32.
Here is Donovan’s memorable goal in the dying moments of the match against Algeria that sent the U.S. into the round of 16 four years ago (notice the great distribution from Everton’s Tim Howard, that made it all possible).