SOCCER: U.S. coach defends decision on Donovan
STANFORD, California — Jurgen Klinsmann tried to dance around the questions: Why take unproven youngsters to the World Cup and leave Landon Donovan home?
A day after announcing his momentous decision to drop the most accomplished player in American men’s football, the U.S. coach hinted at answers without ever saying specifically why Donovan was among the final seven cuts.
“As a coach, you have to make a decision based on what you want to execute in Brazil, what you want to see, how you want to build those components into the entire group. And then I felt — we coaches felt — the guys that we chose, they’re a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas,” Klinsmann said Friday.
Donovan, 32, the American record holder with 57 international goals and second with 156 appearances, was trying to make his fourth World Cup squad. He is scoreless in seven games with the Los Angeles Galaxy this season, and Klinsmann dropped him from the national team for the first half of 2013 after Donovan took a four-month sabbatical.
Asked for specifics, Klinsmann said Donovan “maybe is not the one now anymore to go one against one all the time or going into the box or finishing off.” But the coach praised “his outstanding passing game, his experience, which is a big factor always.”
“He changed his game over the last few years, which is normal at that stage of his career,” Klinsmann said.
The U.S. roster includes just five players who have played in a World Cup — Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and DeMarcus Beasley — and seven players 24 or younger.
Donovan has five World Cup goals, including a stoppage-time score against Algeria four years ago in South Africa that advanced the Americans to the second round.
“We all have an incredible amount of respect and appreciation and admiration for everything that Landon has done for this team and for soccer in this country,” Bradley said. “To see him walk out the door yesterday, to see six other guys walk out the door yesterday, is not easy.”
Klinsmann said Donovan took the decision Thursday “with an amazing composure.”
“Obviously, big disappointment. That is expected, and he said that, he doesn’t kind of understand it,” Klinsmann said. “He thinks he should have been in the 23.”
Donovan was scheduled to discuss the decision today after training with the Galaxy.
Klinsmann said he hopes Donovan remains available in the future: The Americans have the CONCACAF Gold Cup next year and the Copa America in 2016, when qualifying for the next World Cup also starts. Donovan also could return for the World Cup if there is an injury to one of the players selected for the roster.
“The vision is, absolutely, that Landon continues his national team career,” Klinsmann said.
Klinsmann, who was hired in July 2011, won a World Cup with West Germany and European championship with Germany. Less than a week after the Americans were drawn into a difficult World Cup group with Ghana, Portugal and Germany in December, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced Klinsmann’s contract had been extended through 2018.
He maintained the new deal didn’t make him think more toward the future when making his picks.
“This is based on today. This is based on what hopefully goes well the next seven, eight weeks, so that had nothing to do with my contract or with the perspective that those young players have for the longer run,” he said.
His squad includes 18-year-old winger Julian Green, who made his national team debut last month and has just six minutes of first-team experience with Bayern Munich; 21-year-old central defender Anthony Brooks, who has three international appearances; and 20-year-old right back DeAndre Yedlin, whose only national team appearances were as a second-half substitute this year.
“Jurgen is doing a couple things. While he is bringing in as much experience as he can find worldwide that has an American passport, he’s also renovating the team and preparing it for the next cycle,” former U.S. national team coach Steve Sampson said.
“Julian Green is a good example of that. I don’t expect Julian Green to see a lot of minutes, if any minutes, in this World Cup, however, just by being in that environment will bode well for him in the next cycle.”