Rolling the dice isn’t exactly a new thing for United States Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. In fact, it has become a frequent occurrence for the former German striker to go with his gut when it comes to both strategy and player personnel decisions. It’s against this backdrop that Klinsmann left Landon Donovan, arguably the most decorated and revered United States player in history, off his final roster for the World Cup.
If nothing else, the omission of Donovan signals that Klinsmann sees the need to infuse the national team program with new blood. Certainly, there have been encouraging signs on that front already. Even in Donovan’s absence, the Stars and Stripes will be sending one of their most talented sides to Brazil in recent memory.
None of it really mattered to both the media and fans when it was announced the United States’ forward contingent would include veteran Clint Dempsey, the skilled yet enigmatic Jozy Altidore, promising young talent Aron Johannsson and relative newcomer Chris Wondolowski.
The first reactions, naturally, were “where is Donovan?” and “has Klinsmann lost his mind?” After all, Donovan sent the United States into the knockout stages just four years ago with a heroic goal against Algeria in stoppage time. Add that to Donovan’s spark’ing international career, which has included 156 career caps and a team-record 57 goals, and it’s easy to see why the American public stood in stunned disbelief at his announced absence.
Whether the move ultimately pays off remains to be seen. The United States finds itself paired in a brutal Group G with one of the tournament favorites in Germany, a highly skilled Portugal squad and traditional nemesis Ghana. If nothing else, Donovan’s presence could have helped bridge the gap between the old guard of proven performers such as current inclusions Dempsey and Tim Howard with fresh faces like John Brooks and Julian Green.
The bottom line is that the United States is obviously in the process of making the same transition all national teams must make at some point: The move from popular older players towards the new up-and-comers. Klinsmann went through a similar process with Germany as their coach at the 2006 World Cup.
After riding high through the 1990s with an established lineup of stars, Germany began their own transitional phase with Klinsmann as coach. In that instance, the host Germans placed third, which was considered a massive success due to the lack of established pedigree his team possessed heading into the tournament.
It seems unlikely the United States will make a similar run in 2014; in fact, just getting out of the group stage will prove difficult considering the level of opposition facing Klinsmann’s team this time around. How much of a difference Donovan could have made will remain a question regardless of how the United States performs once the tournament gets underway.
In any case, it’s clear Klinsmann will not shy away from making big decisions.
During his opening months on the job, the national team admittedly struggled with cohesion, leading to a sustained low grumbling amongst American supporters. Then came the impressive showings in both qualifying and last year’s Gold Cup that earned Klinsmann the acclaim of both the fans and media. Having now formally kept Donovan off the team, the critical eye of the American public has returned. Will it lead to a positive outcome in Brazil? We’ll find out soon enough. Either way, Klinsmann won’t shy away from the bright lights. One roster announcement made that quite clear.