Jurgen Klinsmann shocked U.S. soccer fans Thursday afternoon by announcing the final roster of 23 players he'll be taking to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil next month. The major news of the announcement was the exclusion of Landon Donovan, the team's all-time leader in goals and assists, in a move that Klinsmann called the "toughest decision in [his] coaching career."
Donovan, however, was not the only surprising storyline in the final round of roster cuts, down from 30 players initially invited to the pre-World Cup training camp. Considered together, the selections paint a puzzling picture of the manager's decision-making.
Klinsmann's influence on the U.S. national team in the three years of his tenure has perhaps been most felt through the incorporation of a large class of German-American dual nationals. The World Cup roster is the boldest demonstration yet of this trend, with five of the six German-American players invited to camp making the final roster. Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson had always been considered shoo-ins to make the team, but John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, and Julian Green are all contentious decisions that leave the German manager wide open for criticism if the selections don't pan out.
Brooks and Chandler were two of eight defenders named to the final roster, while Michael Parkhurst, Clarence Goodson and Brad Evans were among those cut Thursday. With these picks, Klinsmann has chosen two players who've contributed little in the previous year's run-up to the tournament. Brooks has failed to impress in a trio of friendly appearances, while Chandler is coming off a recent injury and last featured for the national team on June 2 of last year. Meanwhile, Goodson, Parkhurst and Evans were fixtures in the national team locker room throughout the U.S. team's successful runs through World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup in 2013.
Green, the Bayern Munich youngster who only recently declared his allegiance to the U.S. team and was widely thought to have a guaranteed place on the plane as a result of that decision, could have been the player who knocked Donovan out of the final 23.
2018 on the Mind?
Possibly working against Donovan and the other cut players was Klinsmann's aggressive inclusion of youth in the U.S. squad. In addition to Green and Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, the 20-year-old Seattle Sounders right back, surprised many when he made the initial 30-man camp. While he plays a position that has been far from settled and he's perhaps the only defender in the U.S. player pool who could stay with Cristiano Ronaldo in a foot race, he's another player who seems far more likely to play significant minutes in 2018 or 2022 than this year in Brazil.
An eye to the future of the program is justifiable, and giving the next generation of players priceless World Cup experience makes sense, until one considers...
Other MLS Veterans Make the Cut
The real puzzlement with Donovan's omission comes when set against the inclusion of 32-year-old Brad Davis (older than Donovan) and 31-year-old Chris Wondolowski among the squad's attacking players. Davis is a left-footed specialist who offers an interesting option off the bench, but frankly isn't the caliber or type of player the U.S. is likely to need at that position against its Group of Death opponents.
Wondolowski has seemingly worked his way into Klinsmann's soft spot over the last six-plus months with his attitude and high soccer IQ. Despite the fact that his national team goal scoring has come entirely against inferior competition, the San Jose Earthquakes striker was preferred to Donovan, the red-hot Terrence Boyd, and Eddie Johnson, whose lackluster club form left him snubbed from even the 30-man camp.
Donovan is inarguably not the player he once was, and three losses in Brazil would likely have put the coach's job security in question regardless. Now, by controversially leaving the American soccer icon out of his team, Klinsmann has guaranteed U.S. fans will have only one place to direct their ire.