Jurgen Klinsmann should know better than this, but he obviously doesn’t.
He should know that you can’t win World Cup games on hope.
He should know that you can’t win World Cup games with youth.
He should know, because he’s been there, that come World Cup time, the cream always rises to the top. And, in soccer terms, cream equals experience.
Klinsmann shocked the U.S. soccer world yesterday by cutting veteran Landon Donovan from the team’s roster for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. Instead, the coach kept the likes of 18 year old Julian Green, whom many believe is the offensive wizard the U.S. has been trying to produce for the last fifty years. There were other head-scratching “keeps” by Klinsmann, including 20-year old defender DeAndre Yedlin, but none created a buzz like Donovan’s departure did when it was announced late Thursday afternoon.
Donovan has been in and out of Klinsmann’s doghouse for the last two years or so, at one point taking a self-imposed “sabbatical” from soccer to discover if, in fact, he really did love the game.
He returned last year to help get the U.S. into the 2014 World Cup, playing a significant role in qualifying games as well as the Gold Cup.
When healthy, the 32-year old Donovan can still make a major contribution. It might not be for a full 270 minutes in the three group games the U.S. team will face next month, but if Klinsmann thinks he’s going to get more out of the likes of Green and newcomer Aron Johannsson, he’s kidding himself.
Lots of folks think Klinsmann is merely playing the “youth card” in an effort to groom those inexperienced kids for Russia 2018. Some look at yesterday’s moves as a concession by the coach that the U.S. — facing the “Group of Death” at Brazil — is facing an uphill battle in 2014.
Jurgen Klinsmann is crafty. That’s how he was as a player and he’s been that way as a coach, too. There’s no logical explanation for the moves he made yesterday. Perhaps he’s trying to create a built-in excuse for next month when/if the red-white-and-blue gets spanked out of the first round of the World Cup — “we had to get those kids some experience, even at the expense of this year’s tournament”.
That’s malarky, of course, and Klinsmann is smart enough to know that. The World Cup comes along every four years. Unless you host the event, you don’t even know if you’re playing in the event when it comes around. There’s never, ever an excuse for “planning for next time”. Not when it comes to the World Cup. You bet your best 23 players out there and go balls-to-the-wall to try and escape Group play and give yourself a chance at advancing.
Yesterday’s decision to leave Landon Donovan off the roster hurts the U.S. chances next month in Brazil. He would have added a midfielder who keeps the ball and distributes it with equal effectiveness. He changes the play to the weak side as well as anyone and can move up to forward in more of a withdrawn, supporting position and suffer little change in his contribution. And, as he showed in 2010 when he scored a last-gasp goal against Algeria to send the U.S. to the knock-out round, Donovan can score goals as well as create them.
He’s no longer the captain of the team, so it’s not like this exclusion means the U.S. has to quickly figure out who their new team leader is, but everyone in the locker room knew what they would be getting from Donovan, whether he provided 90 minutes or 18 as a late-game substitution.
No one knows what to expect from the likes of Green or Johannsson, because neither of them has any experience at this level of play.
This will go down as a colossal mistake by Klinsmann, but something tells me he might know that going in.
Perhaps he knows something we don’t about his 2014 World Cup team.
One thing for certain; he better be right with this decision. If not, he’ll get the blame.