May 22, 2014
By Michael Lewis
Donovan's exclusion is shocking and yet it isn't
So, Landon Donovan did not make the U.S. World Cup team.
How shocking. How stunning. How surprising -- given what he has done for U.S. Soccer since when he starred in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup team in 1999 through helping the Americans to a fourth-place finish.
There is no other player who has accomplished as much as he has.
Three World Cups.
Fifty-seven international goals.
Five MLS Cups titles.
That's just the short list.
And he'll always have Pretoria, as in Pretoria, South Africa, when he scored that astounding, dramatic, stoppage-time goal that lifted the USA to the top of its group for the first time.
He was at the top of his game back then.
But like it or not, that was then and this is now. He hasnít played anywhere near that level in 2014.
After the 2012 MLS season, Donovan had had it with the sport. His batteries needed re-energizing. So, he took a self-imposed sabbatical from the game. He didn't return until the 2013 campaign had begun and was behind the curve with the U.S. National Team, which already had started its World Cup qualifying run in the CONCACAF hexagonal.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said that Donovan had to prove himself to return to the national side, and Landon did so with what was essentially the B team at last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup. He was at the top of his game, leading the team to the title. He returned to the A team and scored against Mexico in the latest dos a cero result last September.
But as good as Donovan was then, he hasn't been close to being the same impact player.
He hasn't found the back of the net for the LA Galaxy since last October. He has but two assists in seven games over 630 minutes for the last-place Galaxy this season. Not exactly promising numbers for a 32-year-old who was considered a striker, not a midfielder, by Klinsmann on his 30-man roster.
While many of us have been entertained by Donovan's goals and accomplishments, like it or not, the World Cup is a young man's game.
You might think it is played and dominated by grizzly veterans. They usually tend goal or are on the backline.
The way the game is played at the highest international level, particularly today, teams rely on speed and youth from their goal-scorers.
Case in point: the average age of a World Cup scoring champion hovers around 25-years-old. That's right, 25. That's when a forward is usually in his prime, before all the tackles, knocks and age catches up to him turns him from a super striker to a mortal one.
That being said, do I think Donovan could offer something off the bench in a close game? Of course I do, but Klinsmann thought otherwise. And if the U.S. loses a close game and none of his attacking subs work, you know he will be second-guessed from here to Munich about leaving Donovan off the team.
Of course, Donovanís exclusion opens the door for some other questions, such as Jozy Altidore, who is just getting into his prime at the age of 24, endured a nightmare season with Sunderland in England. And then there's 19-year-old Julian Green, who hasn't been able to crack the Bayern Munich Starting XI, but has an opportunity to go to Brazil (even though he has made but one international appearance -- as a substitute in the recent 2-2 draw with Mexico).
But those are columns for another time.
This one is about Landon Donovan as we lament on what looks like to be the end of a great international career.