The American soccer world has no doubt been shaken to its core by the exclusion of Landon Donovan from the 23-man roster for the 2014 World Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann leaving Donovan off the roster was nothing less than a shock to just about everybody who follows U.S. soccer. But the dirty little secret that only Klinsmann and a small minority of the U.S. fan base know is that the team will be better at the World Cup without Donovan.
Donovan is not the same player he’s been during previous World Cups. At the age of 32, which is quite old for a player competing at the international level, his body has not held up physically, as you would expect from a player who lacks ideal size. He admits to having minor injuries that have impacted his play, and he simply doesn’t have the speed or stamina that he used to have.
Above all else, the U.S. needs its players to be fit and playing at top form during the World Cup, and at this stage in his career, Donovan simply can’t measure up. At best, Donovan would be used as a late-game substitute, or a starter that eventually gets subbed off the field. He wouldn’t be playing a major role on the team, and Klinsmann can’t afford to use the World Cup as practice to see if Donovan can handle playing a supporting role on the national team. The U.S. is better off going with younger players that will be fit and injury free, and can handle a complementary role.
In the past, Donovan has been too big of a focal point for the team. The style of play and attacking mentality have revolved around getting Donovan the ball and having him initiate scoring opportunities, which isn’t always what’s best for the team. The Americans are at their best when they’re playing together as a single unit, allowing all 11 players to contribute instead of one player being the focal point. This will be easier to do during the World Cup without Donovan on the field or coming off the bench.
Donovan does have a wealth of World Cup experience and has been the team’s hero on more than one occasion, but with a tournament that’s held every four years, few teams bring back a large contingent of experienced players. Actual World Cup experience is vastly over-rated, especially in the case of Donovan, who’s a shadow of the player he was during those previous World Cups. Donovan scoring goals in previous World Cups offers no guarantee that he’ll be able to score goals in this World Cup.
The fact of the matter is that the U.S. has far more options at striker and midfield than they did during previous World Cups. Competition for those roster spots has been fierce, and Donovan simply isn’t one of the best the U.S. has anymore. He may have been a hero of World Cups past, but he’s not one of the 23 best players the U.S. has right now, and the team will be better off without him.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.