USA Soccer enters a busy summer with a late May – early June stretch that includes three World Cup Qualifiers and a couple of high profile (money grab) friendlies. Those vital qualifiers feature matches at Jamaica (June 7), then a pair of home games against Panama (June 11) and Honduras (June 18). Team America should be angling toward a couple of wins and a tie in June, which would essentially qualify the team for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. If they stumble badly, though, qualification could be in doubt.
Seems like a pretty important stretch. Seems like you’d want your full-strength squad. So why has head coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the roster?
Here’s the squad:
GOALKEEPERS (6) : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8) : DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg)
MIDFIELDERS (10) : Michael Bradley (Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Stoke City), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5) : Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)
No room for the greatest American men’s soccer player? You mean to tell us, Jurgen, you believe these 15 forwards and midfielders in camp are better than Landon Donovan?
Of course, there’s more to it. Of course, you may recall Donovan’s much publicized leave-of-absence from soccer, when he said he’d lost his passion and zeal for the sport and needed some soul-searching time. Landon went surfing. Landon went to Thailand. Landon missed the last two vital qualifiers and the first month of the MLS season.
But like Aragorn, Batman, and Luke Skywalker, he has returned (and that’s some fine heroic company). He says he’s rediscovered the engine. He’s been kicking the rust off, rounding back into form. He had two assists and goal in the Galaxy’s midweek game.
Now Klinsmann and some of the US squad members could justifiably feel let down. After all, the team got the snow-win against Costa Rica and the tie at Mexico City with their backs to the wall and no LD#10. What – they’re supposed to welcome him back with open arms? Glad you’re back, let’s roll? That’s precisely what they’re supposed to do.
Nobody in the modern era has given as much consistent quality and effort to US Soccer as Landon Donovan. He’s the one player who deserves the exception. But Jurgen is making his point. Jurgen is building the team ethos. Jurgen has a plan.
That plan better include calling in LD#10 at the first sign of trouble. When, inevitably, one of the field players on the roster picks up an injury – and it always happens with an extended National Team stint at the end of the long European season – Get Donovan in there. It’s a fine PR move, one that allows Jurgen to claim the high road, while also getting the best players on the field.
Moving on… There are several other strange choices on this roster. It looks like we’ve once again crossed the rubicon here, with inexplicable call-ups that have little to do with details such as whether or not someone is playing or playing well for their club team.
Consider Brek Shea. Lots of potential, but hasn’t seen the field for Stoke City much at all. Same for Danny Williams and Michael Parkhurst. Meanwhile, you have Steve Cherundolo coming off an injury in Germany and playing the last month. Cherundolo has been one of the best defenders on the team for years. Yes, he’s getting old, but he’s still effective. Why no call-up? Ditto for Alejandro Bedoya, a young guy who has played very well in Sweden the last month and fits the mold of an attacking midfielder who can also play wide. This team needs width.
In the Beemsville-approved scenario, you’d replace Williams with Donovan, Parkhurst with Cherundolo, and either Shea or Brad Davis with Bedoya. But Jurgen has his plan and he has his depth charts. He also has the Gold Cup in July, which will provide and opportunity for some of the younger or otherwise neglected players to stake a claim. Maybe Landon returns then. We’ll just have to see how this plays out.