The Arithmetic Behind Jurgen Klinsmann’s Decision To Cut Landon Donovan

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Here’s my theory of why Landon Donovan’s was excluded from the final World Cup roster, to be replaced by players much greener (or Green-er, depending on who you believe). It all comes down to arithmetic.

To be clear, I’d love to bemoan his exclusion from the roster. I may not be the most die-hard U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) fan, but I have watched every single game they have played since the 2010 World Cup, and I have looked forward to this summer with giddy anticipation. Like virtually all USMNT fans, Landon Donovan has a special place in my heart, and not seeing him in Brazil will be impossible to ignore. All that is true, but …But. As a team (and fan base), we’ve come too far to let his pink slip ruin our World Cup. These things come only every four years. We may want to be bitter that he was left out, but that does nobody any good. All I can (productively) do is try to make sense of it. So …

It all comes back to Landon’s now infamous sabbatical early last year. It was apparent at the time that Jurgen Klinsmann was unhappy with Donovan’s decision to leave soccer, and it is perfectly clear now. Perfectly. Take out that sabbatical, and there really is nothing on Donovan’s resume — including his recent swoon in productivity — that would have kept him off the roster. Let me illustrate my point. If Donovan hadn’t taken the sabbatical, do you think he would be on the 23 man roster? Of course you do. Because he would have.

Donovan’s sabbatical has been the lingering fart in his relationship with Klinsmann for the last year and a half. The pubic has known about it, but I think we also assumed that even though Klinsmann didn’t like it (I mean, who likes lingering farts?) he was prepared to overlook it once Donovan was fully reinstated into the USMNT fold. More or less, after Donovan made the goal in the World Cup clinching win against Mexico (and appeared full reinstated into the team), I think we all just assumed that he was back in Klinsmann’s good graces, and he was a shoo-in for Brazil.

But here’s where my theory of Klinsmann’s arithmetic comes in. We have all assumed that because of who Landon Donovan is (and was), that he gets bonus points. It’s natural, and usually quite logical. His experience and leadership in previous World Cups give him an advantage over other candidates. Why his experience is important goes without saying. Here’s the math the rest of us have been using. 3 World Cups + 5 goals + countless moments of brilliance = The Mystique of Landon Donovan (or MLD). We’ve falsely assumed that when Klinsmann was deciding on Donovan, that he would take wherever he is right now and just add MLD to the equation, meaning a certain inclusion.

But again, we’re understating what Klinsmann thought of the sabbatical. He was looking at Landon Donovan as a whole, over the stretch of his career, and with all the good he found, that sabbatical was really hard to ignore. Here’s the math I believe Klinsmann used when looking at Donovan. Team leader deserts team right before World Cup Qualifying + Is clearly not as driven as he once was = The Liability of Landon Donovan (LLD). While the rest of us monumentalized Landon Donovan’s previous heroics, and looked at them as the reason Donovan must be put on this year’s World Cup roster, Klinsmann merely looked at them as a reason to forgive his (presumably in Klinsmann’s mind) selfish sabbatical.

When Klinsmann told Donovan he’d have to earn his spot on the roster, here’s what I think he meant: LLD – MLD = Zero. In other words: “You start from scratch.” So, when Klinsmann brought in 30 guys to camp, he really did just want to see where Landon was now, because now was all that mattered. Suddenly, it did matter that the other guys were just a little better than Donovan. It was truly a mano-a-mano tryout, not a mano-a-leyenda tryout. We kept adding MLD to the equation, when Klinsmann had already subtracted that altogether. See, simple arithmetic.

Speaking of simple arithmetic, there are 18 days until America finally exacts its revenge on Ghana. Giddy up!


Bryson Kearl wrote this blog. This is the first World Cup cycle in which Bryson has followed the team zealously all four years, and watched every USMNT game. Let’s just say that if they lose inconspicuously in Brazil, he may never get over it.

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