By Mike Woitalla
Jurgen Klinsmann must achieve a lot for American soccer before he even comes close to Landon Donovan’s contributions.
And whether Klinsmann can be credited for furthering the progress of the U.S. national team is a judgment that can truly be made only after we see the USA’s results at this summer’s World Cup.
One thing we already know is, thanks to Klinsmann, we must look forward to a team with Jermaine Jones and without Donovan. The German coach has embraced a player infamous for being described in Germany, where he had spent his entire career, as the league’s “nastiest player.” And Klinsmann has discarded the player who has done more than any other for American soccer.
Obviously, Jones and Donovan weren’t competing against each other for a roster spot. They play different positions. But the comparison between how Klinsmann has treated the two is worth reviewing.
When Jones was suspended for two months in Germany for a cheap-shot stomping on the foot of Marco Reus in a German Cup game, Klinsmann welcomed Jones into camp and made him captain.
When Donovan took a few months off from soccer for a well-deserved break, he was sent to the doghouse.
Donovan has served the U.S. national team program since he was 15. Besides all the training camps, friendlies and qualifying tournaments, he has played in three World Cups, six Gold Cups, the Confederations Cup, the Olympics, the U-20 World Cup and the U-17 World Cup.
This while becoming the USA’s all-time leading scorer and assist maker. And winning five MLS titles. And spending four MLS offseasons with European clubs.
How is it unreasonable for Donovan to take a vacation?
Still, Donovan fought his way back into the team. He scored and assisted in the win over Mexico that qualified the USA for the World Cup. He was the leading scorer and MVP of the 2013 Gold Cup -- Klinsmann’s first title with the USA. And yet Klinsmann kept questioning Donovan’s value.
But Jones could do no wrong in Klinsmann’s eyes. He praised Jones even after the Costa Rica snow game in which Jones should have been red-carded for throwing a vicious elbow. Jones’ violent play Klinsmann constantly defended with euphemisms. While Jones’ club career floundered in Europe, Klinsmann said Jones was part of the USA’s “spine.”
Donovan takes a break or has a dip in form with the Galaxy and it threatens his national team career. Jones gets dumped by Schalke 04 and gets Klinsmann’s backing.
Klinsmann cuts Donovan but selects Julian Green, another German product, even though Green has played only three minutes of competitive top tier soccer.
I believe Green may be the most likely of all the German recruits to deliver something special to the U.S. team. But going down the list of the 23 players there is no denying that there was room for Donovan without dropping a better bet to improve the USA’s prospects in Brazil.
Even if the 32-year-old Donovan has not played his best during this MLS season, he is still one of the few American players we know has the potential to create the magic that can turn a game in his team’s favor.
Yet Klinsmann, who has cut slack for Jones and other players, says he dumped Donovan because others “were a tiny little bit ahead of him" during a training camp.
It would make more than a tiny little bit of sense for Klinsmann to have more faith in USA’s greatest player ever.