Maybe you live under a rock. And if you do, that’s fine. Here’s the link for Landon Donovan’s goal and Ian Darke’s legendary call that together make the greatest moment in U.S. soccer history. Watch it, if you don’t know it.
Jurgen Klinsmann had a tough decision to make. He had to weigh what he certainly knew would be the expectations of everyone (literally everyone) against what he as a football manager thought to be best for a squad facing the Group of Death. For someone who knows Landon Donovan as a jersey running around on the pitch at age 32, Klinsmann has probably made the right call. He’s watched Donovan’s play steadily deteriorate as his best attribute (his speed) has become…. not an attribute. Their relationship as manager and player has been uneasy as Donovan took a hiatus from football that included meditation and pickup games in Cambodia, a lack of commitment that may have boggled the mind of the German manager. Klinsmann has had to consider top shelf teams from Germany and Portugal and a young and dangerous Ghana team and has decided that youthful talents give the U.S. a better chance than the grit, grizzle, and guile that Donovan has left in him.
If Landon Donovan is just another jersey on the pitch to be judged objectively, then maybe Klinsmann made the right call. Truly.
But he isn’t just another jersey. His jersey has the number 10 on it. And the name Donovan. Landon freaking Donovan.
Landon Donovan is U.S. Soccer. He is our best and most important player, recording 57 goals in 156 caps. When I was a young boy, growing up to the Williams Sisters/Tiger Woods/Peyton Manning/Derek Jeter generation, Landon Donovan was the man in the commercials playing that sport that I knew just as a game to play in the back yard. In 2006, Donovan was the player that Sports Illustrated for Kids decided to put in their four-man World Cup preview (alongside Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, and a goalkeeper whose name eludes me). In 2010, Donovan was the man again, scoring the legendary goal vs. Algeria. And now, with soccer rising in popularity in the U.S. and as one of my favorite sports, Donovan should still be the man.
Since it’s a Saturday, I guess I’ll List the reasons:
- Now who is number 10? For those of you who don’t know, wearing the number 10 on your jersey in international soccer is kind of a big deal. So who wears it now? Clint Dempsey, the slightly overrated midfielder who is about as well-known to the U.S. populace as the backup quarterback on any given NFL team? Jozy Altidore, the erratic striker who has played all over the world and hasn’t played in MLS since 2008? Michael Bradley, the bald dude who looks like his dad who got fired from coaching the USMNT and now plays MLS…. in Toronto? Tim Howard, the team’s best player who plays professionally in England and is a goalkeeper? It doesn’t matter if Donovan wouldn’t actually get to take the warm-up off and display the 10; Mexico trotted out Cuauhtémoc Blanco as their number 10 at the 2010 World Cup when he was 37 years old and Chicharito was becoming the country’s best player and had him come off the bench despite wearing diez. And, would you believe it, Blanco came in as a sub versus France and scored a penalty in a 2-0 victory. Donovan could be our Blanco, even if Julian Green is our Chicharito.
- He’s still contributing. Yes, overall he has slowed, but is Klinsmann forgetting his assist and goal in the World Cup qualifying clinching game vs. Mexico? He can still help the team win.
- Is there anyone else who really needed to be on the team? The U.S. has some good young players, but are any of them that much better that they could swing a game?
- Speaking of which, wouldn’t we rather get 3 losses with Donovan than without? I have a tough time seeing the U.S. winning a game in group play, perhaps drawing versus Ghana. Would it really matter?
- This hurts the popularity of soccer in the U.S. Messi, Ronaldo and the boys will win fans to the Beautiful Game this summer, but to get the game, the U.S. team, and MLS really going, the U.S. has to have a memorable outing. At the very least, people have to watch them play. I think a lot of casual fans will lose interest in the U.S. team without the familiar face of Donovan on the 23-man squad. They aren’t ready to get to know young stars rising in the ranks of the MLS, and they might not feel quite at home seeing the stars of the world. U.S. fans want the one U.S. player that really matters to help usher in the new wave of football fandom.
- It would have been poetic. Sports fans love those storybook moments. Letting Donovan have his Swan Song in Brazil could have been that.
Interestingly enough, Bob Bradley had to go through something similar as he led the Egyptian national team through World Cup qualifiers. At first, he left Mohamed Aboutrika, the nation’s aging icon, off the squad. However, as Aboutrika’s presence in the turmoil engulfing Egypt coincided with a steady improvement in play, Bradley eventually had a change of heart and included Aboutrika on qualifying teams, and he contributed with goals as Egypt came within a victory versus Ghana of making it to the World Cup. The stories, minus a government upheaval in the U.S., are startlingly similar. Klinsmann should have learned from Bradley and seen that sometimes you have to trust in your nation’s legend, especially if they give you steady contributions.
I’m excited about soccer. I’m excited for the Champions League Final which starts in a couple hours, for the World Cup that starts in a matter of weeks, and the Premier League season on the way in a few months. It’s going to be a ton of fun seeing the world come together in Brazil for the biggest sports tournament in the world.
It would just be a little more fun if Landon Donovan was there.
(Side Note: I was watching ESPN this morning and lol who is going to play for Chelsea next year?)
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Soli Deo Gloria