Klinsmann Said No to Captain America: A Wise Move?

Jürgen Klinsmann, coach of the United States men’s national team (#USMNT), recently finalized his list of 23 for Brazil 2014 and surprised the world by leaving Landon “Captain America” Donovan out of the roster.

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The former captain of the US squad, that this year will be facing Portugal, Ghana, and Germany on the group stage, took to Facebook on May 22 and wrote:

To my fans,
It has been an honor and privilege to have represented the US National Team in three World Cups. I was looking forward to playing in Brazil and, as you can imagine, I am very disappointed with today’s decision. Regardless, I will be cheering on my friends and teammates this summer, and I remain committed to helping grow soccer in the US in the years to come.
Thanks for all your support,
Landon

According to Klinsmann, Donovan was jut not up to par with the new generation of strikers. “The other strikers we see that inch ahead of him,” Klinsmann said. “We feel those guys are a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas. That’s why we made that decision.”

“He has done an amazing job the last ten days he was here,” Klinsmann said. “He has done everything right. It has been not easy. These are very close decisions. It’s not a decision against a player, in this case Landon. It’s a decision for another player. We coaches had the feeling over the last few days. We had an inkling a little bit. We sensed it was the right time now.”

Many have criticized Klinsmann for his decision, in what is to be the toughest group the North American squad has seen in the last decade. Donovan’s experience playing World Cups might have just been the edge the team needed to face powerhouses like Portugal and Germany—not to mention the bad record the Americans have against Ghana.

Donovan made his World Cup debut in 2002’s Korea-Japan World Cup, and had been on all World Cup squads up until Brazil 2014. Donovan netted 57 goals in 154 caps for the USA squad, and is currently his country’s all-time goal scorer and assist leader (57). In total, Landon Donovan has scored 172 goals in 428 appearances, counting club and international duty.

In essence, Klinsmann is gambling with the performance of the team due to the fact he knows that the chances of the U.S. advancing to the Round of 16 are pretty slim. It’s probable tat Klinsmann may be thinking that —just like it was in Germany 2006 when the USA team failed to advance from the group stage— this may be a transitory World Cup for the Americans.

Giving opportunities to youth may be a smart move, as they will have World Cup experience in 2018 when Donovan and other leaders of the team will be permanently out of the picture. Still, the fact that both Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski, strikers in the World Cup list at Klinsmann’s service, are just one year younger than Donovan (32), places serious doubts as to why Klinsmann is leaving Donovan out.

Dempsey is very much understandable and has earned his spot in the team, but is Wondolowski better than Donovan? Highly unlikely. The mystery still remains, and we will see if Klinsmann’s gamble does in fact pay off with a surprise. Besides, it’s not like Klinsmann’s management style has been free of critics. He drew the ire of German fans for lackluster performances in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup with the German squad, and even had clashes with one of the key German national team leader, goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. So in essence, it should not be a surprise that Klinsmann left Donovan out.

In the team’s two tuneup games for Brazil, striker Aron Johannsson scored in a 2-0 U.S. victory over Azerbaijan while Dempsey tallied a “pick up the garbage” goal Sunday in a 2-1 win over Turkey. Wondolowski has had his chances (two strong header attempts that missed against Azerbaijan), while striker Jozy Altidore has yet to score for the Americans this year.

As for the team’s captain, that role has now been passed on to Dempsey. Whatever happens in Brazil, we will see if the decision to leave Donovan out, even off the bench, was a wise one. His leadership could have been used by Klinsmann to rally the troops, like when Donovan scored a dramatic last-second goal against Algeria in South Africa 2010. Let’s see what happens. It begins June 16 in Brazil, when the U.S. plays Ghana.

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Edwin Jusino is the Editor-in-Chief of the daily online soccer newspaper, FutbolBoricua.net. He’s been writing about soccer since 2008, filing reports for the CONCACAF Champions League, CFU Club Championship, Puerto Rico Soccer League, Puerto Rico National League, Brazil 2014 CONCACAF Qualifiers, U20 Men’s World Cup Qualifiers, CFU Nations Cup and various international friendlies of the Puerto Rico National Team, including the August 15, 2012 friendly against Spain.

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