For the first time since the 1998 World Cup, the United States will field a soccer team without superstar Landon Donovan.
This comes as a surprise to many, not just diehard fans of soccer, but to casual fans, as well. I fall into the casual category and I use the term casual, loosely.
My soccer knowledge is limited, at best. I know teams like Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid, but can’t tell you what leagues they play in or where they are in the standings.
I know players like Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, but can’t tell you who they play for or what positions they play.
Oddly, I do enjoy watching the World Cup, which is usually the only time I watch soccer. The sport, when the best are playing, intrigues me, except when players collide and drop to the ground as if shot in the knee. And then get up and run full speed seconds later.
Soccer is most popular sport across the world, except in the U.S. The number of kids that play the soccer in the U.S. is extremely high, but for some reason still doesn’t translate into mass popularity in our country.
When it comes to the American World Cup team, I only know a handful of players like Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
The biggest name, Donovan, is no longer on the team.
I could even pick Donovan out of a lineup. That’s how recognizable he is. With the exception of Bradley — only because of his clean shaven head — the rest of the team could be standing right next to me and I wouldn’t even know. I’m probably even reaching with Bradley.
Donovan is and has been the face of U.S. soccer for years. He is a big part in the continuing popularity growth in the country, even if soccer still lags behind other sports.
Donovan is the all-time leading scorer in U.S. history with 57 goals in 156 international appearances. He has played in more World Cup games (12) than any other U.S. player and has scored a record five World Cup goals for the U.S.
So to see Donovan’s name not on the final list of 23 players was a surprise to me.
Donovan has had some injury issues, but I did not know he took a three-month sabbatical from the sport last year.
Donovan isn’t the same player at age 32, as he was as a World Cup rookie in 2002 at 20. Who is?
But what Donovan brings is a level of experience unmatched by any other player on the current cup roster. Just five of 23 players have World Cup experience.
Playing in what is considered one of the toughest opening round groups; with Ghana, Portugal and Germany, I’m thinking Donovan’s experience would be a plus.
Then again, because of the level of competition, maybe coach Jurgen Klinsmann was forced to leave Donovan off the roster. One for better athleticism and two, considering this could be a quick cup, to give the U.S. youth some experience for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Klinsmann participated in three World Cups (1990, 1994, 1998) for both West Germany and Germany. He coached Germany to a surprise third place finish in the 2006 World Cup before taking over the U.S. squad in 2011.
It’s obvious Klinsmann has the experience and knowledge to do what he thinks in best for the U.S. soccer program. Whether or not, this move helps or hinders the U.S. remains to be seen.
Regardless, the fans of U.S. soccer will miss Donovan. If the U.S. is ever to win a World Cup or advance beyond the opening stage they will need more players with the skill and dedication Donovan has shown over the years.