The Explaining No Landon Donovan Article

landon donovan usmnt 2014 world cup the tom gulley show cut jurgen klinsmann
United States soccer. Oh, how far we've come.

And, oh, how far we have yet to go. As evidenced by the gloom, doom, outrage, and incredulity espoused by many American soccer fans at the exclusion of Landon Donovan from the final World Cup roster for Brazil.

But that's OK. I'm going to explain why it makes sense.

Never Let A German Question Your Commitment OR You Want A Sabbatical, You Got A Sabbatical. Jurgen Klinsmann isn't just the coach of the US National Team. He's a World Cup winner, a Euro Championship winner, a UEFA Cup winner, and one of the deadliest strikers in history--as a player.

As a manager? He's helmed Germany and Bayern Munich.

When Landon Donovan took his now-famous "sabbatical" from soccer during World Cup qualifications, it demonstrated a terrible lapse in judgement. When your coach is a German legend, COMMITMENT and devotion is paramount.

In Germany--and in Europe--team and nation come first. When you decide to take a four month trip to Cambodia rather than wear your nation's jersey, it's a slap in the face. It doesn't just bring into question a player's commitment. It defines a lack of it.

Jurgen Klinsmann, like any good German soccer legend, wants 23 players who would walk through fire and razor blades to represent their country. Landon Donovan very clearly decided his time was better spent elsewhere.

Now Mr. Klinsmann has afforded him the opportunity to enjoy just that.

You Wanna Play In A World Cup? Better Get Your Mind Right, Boy. Again, people from storied soccer nations believe that playing soccer should be a devouring, all-encompassing devotion. The road to the top is incredibly difficult, and it takes just that kind of devotion to make it to a national team.

And, as with most pro sports, it's the MENTAL toughness that separates the wheat from the chaff. Sadly, Landon Donovan has had a few episodes of not demonstrating mental toughness during his career.

The Bayer Leverkusen debacle had Donovan unable to acclimate to German culture and training. So he came back. He trained with Bayern Munich--getting into a handful of friendlies. They declined to extend his loan. Has to be a reason.

Then, the "sabbatical" happens. Although it's not like he quit the game altogether, Donovan has a track record of taking the easy way--MLS rather than playing in a European first division, for example.

Clint Dempsey left MLS for the EPL as soon as possible and fought like a bulldog to gain, then keep, his spot. Even through difficult times and several managerial changes.

Donovan simply has not challenged himself to play against the highest level competition possible. And he could have. But when the going got tough, Landon Donovan sought out an easier path.

If You're Not Tough, That's Just Tough. As a forward, Donovan isn't required to "thug up" on opposing players, but many have observed that he shies away from physical play.

The US will be facing Germany (Physical? Oh, yes.), Ghana (Physical? Check.), and Portugal (Also physical.) If a coach thinks you'll be a liability against such opposition from a physical standpoint--and Landon himself admits he can't go all out, all the time--you're not going to Brazil.

It's A Young Man's Game. Klinsmann's selections for the final 23 revealed a preference for youth. Certainly, there are veterans and older players like Howard (goalkeepers are longer in the tooth), Dempsey, and Wondolowski.

But this team features a whole lot of players with a whole lot of no major US national team--certainly not World Cup--experience.

However, at the last World Cup, the German team's average age was 22. And lest we forget, Landon Donovan was a 20 year-old in 2002.

Now? He's a 32 year-old with a recovering knee who has admitted he can't go all out, all the time.

Klinsmann has decided that "long in tooth" experienced is less desirable than youth and all it brings with it. Personally, our talent pool is such that we need to start abandoning age and guile for "the lads" who don't know what they can't do yet.

Whether Klinsmann was right will play itself out in Brazil. But on this issue, Donovan may be a victim of the same inspiration of youth he himself displayed in 2002.

If You Want To Play Against The Best, You Better Be Playing Your Best. Donovan's current form in MLS is atrocious. He is NOT in form, and Klinsmann has many times said that if you want to play for the US National team, you better be in form and performing well for your club side.

Donovan? In 7 full MLS matches this year, he has 0 goals, 2 assists, and only 6 shots on goal. Not exactly burning down the house.

It's 2014. Not 2002. We've Got Options. The acceleration of US soccer talent in the last 12 years has been, by any standard, impressive.

Unlike when Donovan broke into the 2002 World Cup, the US has a lot more depth and a lot more options.

Klinsmann said he was considering Donovan as a forward. So, he's out of form, can't go all out, and doesn't have the speed he used to. Wondolowski has been in form. Altidore, while not scoring, is big and physical. And, he's been playing against FAR more challenging competition the majority of his career.

There are options. Donovan just doesn't stack up in too many areas.

Plus, "was" the best player is a long way from "is" the best player.

If You Want Athletes To Get The Message, You've Got To Send A Message. From my own experience--and from discussing it with athletes of all sports and levels--only two things will motivate professional athletes.

1. Money.
2. Playing time.

The money issue is off the table here (although you can make a lot more with a good WC performance) but playing time? If I'm one of the US player pool right now, I'm checking myself BIGTIME. Because if Klinsmann is willing to cut Landon Donovan, no one is sacred.

PERFORMANCE and EFFORT are sacred. The notion that you're giving your all, all the time is sacred.

Klinsmann did US soccer a favor. Give everything, all the time, or go home. It's not that Donovan was a slacker. He's not. But he planted a seed of doubt. And that's unacceptable to someone who played a career with and for people who had no place for it.

The word is out. You better bring all you got, all the time, or Klinsmann will cut you without a second's thought. Some might think that's unfair. Or unproductive.

Others, like myself, call it a higher standard. And we're glad the message has been sent.

Get Out Your Pitchforks And Torches. Landon Donovan Is NOT The Best Soccer Player In US History. Best scorer? Yes. Without question. Certainly.

But best PLAYER? I beg to differ. Tab Ramos was voted CONCACAF Player Of The Year. Donovan? No. Claudio Reyna RAN several top European clubs and broke all sorts of ground from the midfield.

And truthfully, the best US soccer players of all time are all GOALKEEPERS. Certainly, that doesn't count in the minds of many fans, but it's the truth.

Has there ever been a US player who has been as prized by their EUROPEAN club side as Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, and Tim Howard? No. Friedel and Howard were both PFA Team Of The Year selections. Keller played in England, Germany, and Spain.

Then there's Clint Dempsey. Maybe Michael Bradley can start laying claim, but Dempsey is our best player. Tough, smart, a leader, and finds a way to score no matter how. He also chose to challenge himself and fight for a spot at Fulham through a lot of adversity. The Man From Nacogdoches plays the game with a chip on his shoulder. He does the dirty work that allows Donovan to run in that open space--which is his strong suit.

All That Said, Let's Not Forget. Even though Landon Donovan isn't going to Brazil, and he may not be our greatest player ever (or at present), Landon Donovan has always been a tremendous servant to the sport in this country and it will be sad to see him go.

The Donovan of 2002 was inspired. The Donovan of 2010 was gritty, explosive, and inspirational. And, without question, his exclusion was hard luck. Keeping him in the side would never have been questioned.

In the final analysis, Landon Donovan will always be a legendary figure in US soccer, and we should all tip our cap to a job well done, and honor his service. Along with all those firecracker goals.

Even if he's not going to Brazil.

Tom Gulley (recipient of the David Letterman Scholarship) is an award-winning writer, broadcaster, and journalist who regularly creates brilliant communications for some of the world’s biggest companies. Especially the ones you admire. He’s available for writing, creative strategy, digital communications, talk show hosting, voice talent work, kid’s birthday parties, and free 24-hour Martinizing. And his name never fails to get a big laugh when mentioned in small groups at parties.

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