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Was Leaving Landon Donovan Off The Squad A Mistake?

It’s been almost 24 hours since news broke about Landon Donovan being left off the 2014 USMNT World Cup squad. Reactions have been widespread throughout the soccer community and, on both sides, passionate to say the least. In case you've been living in a bunker for the past day (and, if you're Jürgen Klinsmann's son, you probably want to take cover in a bunker after dissing Donovan on Twitter), The18 lays out both sides of the argument. 

Leaving Donovan off was a mistake: 

Landon Donovan can’t be replaced by anyone. For the past 15 years he's displayed the best combination of touch, vision, work rate, passing and finishing ability of any player in an American Jersey, and that time hasn’t ended. This is not to say that based off his accolades he should be on the team, but that even a slightly decayed skill set from Donovan would have been useful in Brazil, especially in the 80th minute when you need a goal. Moreover, Donovan’s fitness wouldn’t be an issue if he were only playing 20 or so minutes a game.

One player on the roster who many thought should have been left off the squad instead of Donovan is Julian Green. Scratch those thoughts. Green's ability to stretch defenses vertically and horizontally with raw speed, and a willingness to attack defenders one-on-one is what the USMNT needs. On the other hand you have Brad Davis. Brad Davis is the same age as Donovan and has played 14 times for the U.S. compared to Donovan’s 156. He has never shown anything while playing in a U.S. national team jersey, and his only asset is his ability to serve lovely free kicks and corners. Oh wait, Landon Donovan can do that too. The U.S. will look to set pieces and counters at the World Cup, and there are few on the squad who can create and lead a break like Donovan. They say the World Cup is becoming a young man’s game, and based off of Jurgen’s roster that is true, but it will always be about the most talented players that you have, and the U.S. will be leaving one of their most talented at home. 

Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan is the USMNT's all time leading scorer with 57 goals. Next on the list is Clint Dempsey with 36. (Photo: @102greatgoals | Twitter)

Leaving Donovan off wasn't a mistake:

One thing is for sure. This is Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. Ever since becoming manager in 2011, Klinsmann has restructured the youth system, asked players to play in Europe’s top leagues and experimented with different lineups. Jurgen is obviously building for the future with this young squad, and it isn’t something out of the ordinary for him. He did the same thing as manager of the 2006 German World Cup squad, taking David Odonkor, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Lukas Podolski, all of whom were 22 or younger. He’s done the same thing here with 18-year-old winger Julian Green, 20-year-old right back DeAndre Yedlin and 21-year-old central defender John Anthony Brooks.

Donovan isn't ancient, but let’s get this out of the way: he is not the same player that he was and I don’t think that Donovan is the type of player that Jurgen wants on his team. Remember, this is HIS team. Jurgen demands that his players push themselves and set personal goals. If everyone puts in enough work, it will create a better team. In a recent interview Donovan said, “I’m not real big on personal goals anymore. I want the team to do well. Of course every player wants to play, that’s why we do this. But more than that, I want us to be successful and I’m in a place now that I’m willing to do whatever is needed of me to help us be successful.” That doesn’t sound like a hungry striker to me, which is where Klinsmann wants to play Donovan. Klinsmann wants hungry players, who are determined to shock the World and the dreaded group of death. At this point in his career, Landon doesn’t have the mindset that Jurgen is looking for.

It might also be said that the leadership argument doesn’t hold. Klinsmann has Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, DeMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey as leaders in the locker room, so Donovan won’t be missed in that respect. Some say that Klinsmann is looking to the 2018 World Cup as the year the U.S make major strides on the international level. That could be true, but there is no way Klinsmann isn’t trying to win in Brazil. Looking at the decision tactically, if Klinsmann plays a 4-2-3-1, Michael Bradley and either Jermaine Jones or Kyle Beckerman will play the defensive mids, and Dempsey is sure to be the central mid with Altidore up top. Donovan is not at his best on the left, which is where Julian Green comes in. Yes, he is young and has virtually no experience, but you have to start some time and with Klinsmann signed through the next World Cup, why not start the youth movement now? This long-term thinking isn’t ever popular in sports, but Jurgen Klinsmann has told us one thing, this is a new era of U.S. Soccer, and if you aren’t on board, then get out.

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