The decision was fast, and the timing was stunning.
Landon Donovan, the United States men's national team's all-time leading scorer and one of the most clutch players in American soccer history, was unceremoniously cast aside by Jurgen Klinsmann on Thursday as Klinsmann named the 23 players who will represent the U.S. at next month's World Cup in Brazil.
In remarks on a video published by the Associated Press (you can watch it above), Klinsmann explained his rationale for the decision:
This is certainly one of the toughest decisions in my coaching career, to tell a player like him, with everything he's done and what he represents, to tell him that you're not part of those 23 right now. I just see some other players slightly ahead of him.
He has been in that final 30 [player] roster, and in terms of now the last 10 days, he did everything right. He was always positive, he took it the best way possible. So his disappointment is huge. I totally understand that. He took it very professionally, because he's an outstanding professional player. And he knows I have the highest respect for him.
But I have to make the decision as of today. I have to make the decision based on what good for this group going into Brazil. And there, I just think that the other guys right now are a little bit ahead of him, and I told him that. He understands it, but obviously he's very disappointed.
As recently as Wednesday, Klinsmann had indicated publicly that he intended to wait until closer to FIFA's June 2 deadline to pick his final squad.
So much for that.
It's also worth nothing that Klinsmann did not specify who he thinks ranks ahead of Donovan on the depth chart. He did, however, post a tweet stating that he considers the seven dropped players to be "on standby," not out of the picture entirely
We want to give a huge compliment to the seven players still on the standby list. They gave everything they had. Need them to stay ready !!— Jürgen Klinsmann (@J_Klinsmann) May 23, 2014
"After almost 10 days of work right now, we thought the point has come to make the decision," Klinsmann said in a separate statement issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation. He added that the players who have been selected "can relax and know they are on the list going to Brazil."
The 23 players selected might be relaxing, but it's pretty clear that that millions of U.S. national team fans are not.
Donovan's public response to being dropped was characteristically polite. He posted this statement Thursday evening on his Facebook page:
To my fans,
It has been an honor and privilege to have represented the US National Team in three World Cups. I was looking forward to playing in Brazil and, as you can imagine, I am very disappointed with today’s decision. Regardless, I will be cheering on my friends and teammates this summer, and I remain committed to helping grow soccer in the US in the years to come.
Thanks for all your support,
For as much of an uproar as the decision has created (rightly, in my opinion), Klinsmann dropped a major hint that it might be coming when he named the 30-man training camp roster on May 12.
Consider these remarks from Klinsmann's conference call with reporters when he was asked about Donovan's standing with the national team:
I was always straightforward with him. There's no doubt what he did for U.S. Soccer, for the clubs, mainly the Galaxy, or before that with San Jose, or what he did in his personal career for the national team is undoubtedly amazing. You give him every compliment, and he deserves every compliment for that.
Since he took his break, I simply told him, 'If you take a break like that, then you have to fight your way back into the picture and you have to confirm it week-in, week-out with performances for your club team and you have to confirm it also with performances for the national team environment once you get back.' We're still on that same path.
He gets evaluated every time he comes in, and I'm straightforward with him every time that I see him. I obviously watched many of his games this season, like I watch the games of all the other guys, so he goes through the same evaluation process as everybody else. He has to win a spot and convince the coaches that it's the right decision to have him be a part of the team.
It's just normal. For me this is very, very normal, and again, with all the appreciation, with all the admiration for what he's done throughout his career, which is extraordinary and deserves the compliments that he gets, but soccer is about what happens today and what you do today, and what you hopefully do tomorrow.
I mention it also very often that we're not building the group based on the past, we're building the group based on what we experience and go through together and what we believe, and as of today, is the right decision.
It's what we're also going to do three weeks from now after the Turkey game when we have to name 23 players. It's going to be about what we believe in as of June 2, 2014. We need to feel good about that and convinced about that. That's how we look at it.
A lot of observers noted Klinsmann's extensive use of the past tense as soon as those words came out of his mouth. Now the true meaning is clear.
Union midfielder Maurice Edu also failed to make the cut, though that was less surprising. The other five players cast aside were defenders Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes) and Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew); midfielder Joe Corona (Tijuana/Mexico); and forward Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna/Austria).
Edu will join the Union in Los Angeles this weekend and will be available for Sunday's game against the Galaxy Galaxy. Donovan, who plays for the Galaxy, will be there too.
Only one of those two sentences is surprising.
Here are the players who did make the cut. What do you think of Klinsmann's choices?
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg/Germany), Omar González (Los Angeles Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/Germany), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/France), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Julian Green (Bayern Munich/Germany), Jermaine Jones (Beşiktaş/Turkey), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Here's a sampling of reaction on Twitter to the news that Donovan was cut:
This guy is not going to the World Cup: pic.twitter.com/2ONeeEn1yP— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) May 22, 2014
Landon Donovan has as many WC goals (5) as Cristiano Ronaldo (2), Robin van Persie (2) and Lionel Messi (1) COMBINED.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 22, 2014
I dont know that you can keep the locker room totally behind you with Donovan decision, or the American fans. Distraction through tourney— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) May 22, 2014
Shocked by Donovan omission. Like Hodgson taking Lampard: experience, form & potential to duplicate the past edges LD over other candidates— Kyle Martino (@kylemartino) May 22, 2014
Ultimately I rationalize it as Donovan paying for a decision Klinsmann never accepted.— Kyle Martino (@kylemartino) May 22, 2014
No problem with LD out of #USMNT, but you do it after Cambodia. Don't name him to 30 in May '14 and then tell me he's not one of best 23.— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) May 22, 2014
Just landed & hit w/Donovan #USMNT news. Gutted. But..dont be surprised if he's an injury replacement & there is so much more to this story.— Rob Stone (@RobStoneONFOX) May 23, 2014
No Landon Donovan in #USMNT's final roster for World Cup. Think it's a mistake but source told me not long ago many in team didn't like him.— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) May 22, 2014
@herculezg Very credible source. Some players not liking him doesn't mean that no one liked him.— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) May 22, 2014
"Many" may have been wrong word but source was clear in saying some on squad didn't like Donovan. #USMNT— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) May 22, 2014
Klinsmann had said in past that final 23 players wouldn't necessarily be "most talented" but "best team". If it were former, LD is in #USMNT— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) May 22, 2014
“@sydneyleroux: Whoa.” Whoa is right— Abby Wambach (@AbbyWambach) May 22, 2014
Landon Donovan was not my favorite teammate in the world. With that said, this is a HUGE mistake to leave him off the World Cup team. #USMNT— Alecko Eskandarian (@alecko11) May 22, 2014
RT @jonklinsmann I doubt that he thinks Davis is better than Donavan, I think (OPINION) that he wanted someone who would give it their all.— Brian Straus (@BrianStraus) May 22, 2014
Klinsmann's son wrote this then deleted: RT @jonklinsmann HHAHAHAHAHAHAH DONAVAN HAHAHAHAA I DIDNT EVEN NOTICE UNTIL PHONE NOTIFIED ME HAHA— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) May 22, 2014
In addition to being Jurgen's son, Jonathan Klinsmann plays goalkeeper for a top youth club in southern California, and has committed to play college soccer for the University of California at Berkeley. He issued an apology a few minutes after posting those remarks above, and later Thursday took down his Twitter account entirely.
His apology is duly noted, and I'm sure he genuinely wishes he had thought before he spoke. But his family association and well-regarded soccer skills have reasonably made him a public figure, so the public was right to put him in the spotlight.
Here's the U.S. national team's schedule of public events from now until it leaves for Brazil. All times are Eastern unless otherwise noted
Monday, May 26
5:00 p.m. Pacific Time: Public training session at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Calif. (8:00 p.m. Eastern, but the local time of more relevance for people who are going)
Tuesday, May 27
10:00 p.m. Eastern/7:00 p.m. Pacific: United States vs. Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Calif. (ESPN2, UniMás)
There will be a Fan Fest outside the stadium starting at 5:00 p.m. PT, which is also when the suite and hospitality gates open. General gates open at 5:30 p.m. PT. In addition to the usual raft of promotions, games and so forth, there will be appearances by former U.S. national team players.
Friday, May 30: Fan Appreciation Day in New York
8:00 a.m.: U.S. team players appear on ABC's “Good Morning America” with famed rapper 50 Cent. The show is free and open to the public for watching from Times Square, at 44th Street and Broadway.
1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.: Fan fest in Times Square, free and open to the public
5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.: Special live “ESPN FC” show broadcast from Times Square
7:30 p.m.: ESPN's “Men in Blazers” podcast hosts a show from the Town Hall Theater, 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, with members of the 2014 and 1994 U.S. World Cup teams. Tickets range from $20-35 and are available here.
Saturday, May 31
11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Free public training session at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J
Sunday, June 1
2:00 p.m.: United States vs. Turkey at Red Bull Arena, Harrison. N.J. (ESPN2/UniMás)
There will be a Fan Fest outside starting at 12:00 p.m., similar to the one in San Francisco. Suite and hospitality gates will open at the same hour. General gates open at 12:30 p.m.
Friday, June 6
5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.: Free public training session at EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Saturday, June 7
6:00 p.m.: United States vs. Nigeria at EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla
There will be a Fan Fest outside the stadium starting at 4:00 p.m., similar to the one in San Francisco. Suite and hospitality gates will open at the same hour. General gates open at 4:30 p.m.