The 160-pound Icon Not in the Room
Landon Donovan’s exclusion from the WC Roster has obviously taken the Internet hostage over the past few days and will, undoubtedly, remain one of the USMNT’s top story lines through the World Cup. In my humble opinion, the former is both understandable and deserved, but the latter is unfortunate.
Every four years, the World Cup shoves soccer into the faces of millions of Americans who are either ambivalent or downright resistant to the sport’s development in the US. Far more important than sticking it to the cranky old heads is the pulling of open-minded sports fans into the inescapable vortex of soccer fandom – exhibit A being your faithful scribe, the 2006 World Cup, and a genuinely unhealthy love for Riquelme. NBC’s ratings for the Premier League increased all season and MLS is in the middle of an Anthony Davis-esque growth spurt, but the World Cup remains the single most influential advertisement for soccer in this country – a quadrennial referendum on what American soccer is and what American soccer will be.
The issue now, in light of the roster release, is that I imagine Donovan’s exclusion could become a central tenant of every USMNT pre and post-match analysis this summer. The team wins? "Hey, Klinsmann knew what he was doing, we never needed Donovan!" The team loses? "What was Klinsmann thinking leaving him off?!" It’s the kind of simple, reliable, black or white narrative that the mainstream media knows soccer-uninitiated fans will inherently “get.” It’s made for online polls, it’s made for Twitter #’s, and it’s absolute liquid gold for the trolling heads who can’t be bothered to watch the actual game.
All of this is to say that Donovan’s exclusion is major news and should be revisited during the tournament. I just hope that it doesn’t stop American “soccer-fans-in-waiting” from exploring all the little details – from outside of the boot passes to inspired tactical shifts – that make the Beautiful Game, the Beautiful Game.
Now that my rant is concluded, let’s eat a pu-pu platter of Donovan-related analysis.
We Talkin’ Tactics??
Over at MLSsoccer.com, Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle finally confirmed he has ice in his veins with a tactical analysis of LD’s exclusion from the roster. For my part, I always felt Donovan was more likely to play the role of impact sub whether the Yanks lined up with a midfield diamond (as nicely outlined by Doyle) or in the 4-2-3-1 we’ve also seen under Klinsmann. Donovan’s athleticism may be on the wane and his goalless start to the MLS season confirms he’s not in peak form, but he’s scored a lot of goals, big goals, for club and country over the years.
The last time we saw Julian Green, he looked to be exactly what he is: a technically-gifted teenager of enormous future potential. I think it’d be reckless of me to further any conspiracy theories regarding his citizenship without any actual evidence. I do think it’s fair to say that if we’re down 1-0 against Ghana in the 62nd minute, I’d be happier seeing LD taking off his substitute bib than the “green” Green (couldn’t resist). If I’m the only one with flashbacks to Theo Walcott at Germany ’06, please let me know.
Klinsmann the Younger Takes Enforced Social Media Sabbatical
Of course, Doyle is one of the few people actually analyzing the California Kid’s exclusion on purely technical terms because of the widely-perceived personal rift between Donovan and Klinsmann the Elder.
As Alexi Lalas discussed, Klinsmann was openly displeased with Donovan’s (in)famous sabbatical in 2013. Yet, LD’s key role in the Gold Cup later that year seemed to signify at least a “new normal,” if not clean start, for Donovan and the Klinsmann-era USMNT. Their public exchanges have always been appropriately cordial and honest, even through the roster announcement last week.
Yet, there was a slip – a rather significant one to mine eyes – by Klinsmann’s son Jonathan, who let this typo-stricken tweet fly after the news broke. Klinsmann the Younger is far from the only 17-year old to make a poor social media decision, but that he would even bother gloating about Donovan’s painful cut raises questions as to what the Klinsmann family chats about when they sit down for dinner.
The Roster Announcement Zapruder Film
Here’s a video of Klinsmann meeting with his final 23 for the first time, and there are a few stray observations I’d like to make.
1.) What was the score in the ping-pong game between Mix Diskerud and Graham Zusi when it was interrupted? Was Mix upset about a “next point wins” ruling? If there isn’t a recorded best of seven series with the loser having to shave his hair I’m going to be sorely disappointed. Let’s make this happen.
2.) Klinsmann immediately seeking out Clint Dempsey to grab his shoulders and tease him about a lack of music will live on as one of the most awkward moments in USMNT history. Reminded me of a well-intended, but poorly-conceived joke during a eulogy.
3.) You’ll notice Timothy Chandler, Jermaine Jones, John Anthony Brooks, and Julian Green all sitting together. To be fair, that couch also included Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Ale Bedoya (while excluding Fabian Johnson, as far a I could tell) so I may be reading too much into it. Regardless, it would certainly behoove Klinsmann to ensure the “German” contingent’s full social integration into the squad. Johnson and Jones have been around awhile and I can’t see the team blaming Brooks and Green for being selected, but that group’s collectively shaky grasp of English means some extra get to know ya time may be required -- time they now have due to the early announcement.
That’s all I got, let me know what I missed below.