After reflection, more on Landon Donovan
So we are less than 24 hours since the surprise absence of Landon Donovan from the roster for the US National Team going to the World Cup in Brazil, but the internet has been all abuzz about it and it seems some thoughts have been fleshed out. How abuzz? My college football Twitter list has been buried in it.
We know he still has talent, skill and athleticism, as well as a wealth of experience. Many are arguing that surely, he is an asset to any World Cup squad. And that is all very true.
Others have pointed out the up-and-down nature of his game over the last few years and asked if he is motivated enough to go through the grind that is a World Cup tournament, especially one as difficult as the group stage the US is facing - Germany, Portugal and the US nemesis the last few World Cups, Ghana.
But a LOT of the emotion that is coming to support Landon seems to be,"But he DESERVES it."
And here is where I think we can draw some distinctions.
US fans, we absolutely, totally, and completely owe him our thanks. A thousand times over. From the greatness of Suwon to the game against Algeria, and so many times in between, he provided something that the US needed to raise itself from the bowels of the international soccer world. Without him, we do not upset Portugal in the 2002 World Cup, or beat Mexico that same tournament. We maybe don't qualify for the 2006 World Cup. Or 2010. And the amazing moments in South Africa in 2010 - against Slovenia, and Algeria - do not happen without his unique skill set.
And frankly, that doesn't touch on hundreds of other games in between that also added to the credibility of the USA as a soccer nation.
But this isn't about thanks. That is what a farewell tour is for. Go see him play for the Los Angeles Galaxy and make him a sign if you want to thank him (and seriously, go do that. I am not being snarky or sarcastic when I say that - he deserves to see that). This is about the World Cup, a grind of a tournament like no other.
The USA has never faced a more athletic, skilled, talented, or experienced group of teams in the World Cup. FIFA rankings - Germany, 2; Portugal 3; Ghana technically 38th, but we know they are better than that, having made the Round of 16 in 2006 and the Quarterfinals in 2010. So the US is going to need its very best players performing at their very best, and the group as a whole performing as a cohesive unit to even have a reasonable showing, let alone get out of the group.
And where does Landon Donovan fit in that?
Considering his last three years, not real cleanly. His talent, his skill, his athleticism and his experience is not to be denied. But is he ready to go through the grind - and not just go through it, but lead and succeed?
This is where I think Jurgen Klinsmann is headed with his exclusion of Donovan. That a player with that level of experience will be expected to lead from the front, and if Donovan isn't ready to pick up the baton and run with it, maybe it isn't best for the group that he be there?
Personally, I don't know. I am like many - an outsider trying to make sense of it all. But from this particular cheap seat, I see a player who is tired, who has done his bit for King and Country, and as such deserves our respect and thanks, but who simply isn't ready to go back into the meat grinder that is a World Cup tournament.
So thank you, Landon Donovan, for a thousand things you have done to improve this soccer nation. Know that every step of success the USA has going forward is heavily influenced by your efforts, your passion, your personality. We are better for it.
But that does not equate to a spot on the World Cup roster, harsh as that might seem. You see, you did it - you helped us grow up. Being one of the 23 best players from your country is no longer good enough to make the World Cup roster. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for you.
Go HERE for Part II as this story just doesn't seem to want to go away...
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