Monday, June 2, 2014

Defending Donovan

Scott still is not over 'The Omission":

Landon Donovan not on the US National Team?  And not on a self-diagnosed curative walkabout?  Blasphemy!  And the wrong decision.
First of all, everybody needs to get over their hurt feelings from when Donovan went MIA for a couple months and missed some qualifiers. When a seasoned professional, who has arguably given more to US Soccer than any other individual, says their body and mind need a break, we should trust that professional. And when said professional returns and the coach says he needs to earn his place back in the squad, we should support that coach. Donovan humbly applied himself again, working his way back into the lineup and then leading the team to a Gold Cup Championship last summer while garnering MVP honors along the way. So let's just put all that in the past - he took a break, people were disappointed, he came back, earned his spot, excelled and led - 'nuff said.
Now to the present. Should Jurgen Klinsmann have included him among the final 23 to go to Brazil?  Absolutely!  Why?  Because he has a surfeit of the 2 qualities you look for when it comes to the World Cup: Experience and Rising to the Occasion.  There is no doubt that Donovan has the experience.  He is a veteran of 3 World Cups and has more international appearances than any American except Cobi Jones (and, let’s face it, due respect to Cobi but he got a lot of those back when the US was pulling from a much smaller talent pool and playing a lot of kickball).  Plus, Landon has scored more goals than anyone else for the US by a long shot, 57 compared to the next best of 36.  But he doesn’t just score goals either.  He also has 58 assists which is similarly miles ahead of the next best of 22.  Experience counts at the World Cup.  When nerves are rattled by playing in front of 50,000 plus in attendance and a billion or so television viewers, teams need a player like Donovan who has not only been there before, but also excelled.
Which brings us to the next quality.  Some players, despite a solid supporting cast around them, never rise to the occasion of the World Cup.  As evidence, consider that Donovan has the same number of World Cup goals as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robin Van Persie…..COMBINED.  While not in the stratosphere where you can find Miroslav Klose and the former Ronaldo, Donovan’s total of 5 World Cup goals is more than respectable – it’s damn good.  And as further evidence of stepping up when it matters, consider the small matter of a lung-busting 60 yard run, in the final minutes, to turn in the winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, without which, the US would have been eliminated.  There is no doubt – Donovan is a gamer.
So what is it that Jurgen sees that so many of us do not?  True, he watches the players on a daily basis while we do not.  And some have said he is out of shape, but that’s a load of crap because he would absolutely be in shape by the first kickoff (see above).  I just find it hard to believe that all 20 of the field players are a “little bit ahead” of the former captain.  Pegging him to a position is ridiculous because he can play several positions and, bottom line, you just flat make an exception for someone who can bring what Donovan can.
Since there is no logical reason I can think of, there just may be something to Klinsmann harboring a grudge against Donovan for his sabbatical, despite the player’s self-proving upon return.  Or maybe he was ruffled by honest commentary by Landon that, as he gets older, he can’t go 100% in practice every time because he knows his body.  Club teams accommodate skilled, senior players all the time by limiting their training, rationing their games and substituting wisely, because they know the value a player like Donovan can bring.
Now, maybe Klinsmann has his nose out of joint because of comments Donovan made subsequent to being cut.  First, it must be noted that Landon’s first comments were nothing but pure class:
“It has been an honor and privilege to have represented the US National Team in three World Cups. I was looking forward to playing in Brazil and, as you can imagine, I am very disappointed with today’s decision. Regardless, I will be cheering on my friends and teammates this summer, and I remain committed to helping grow soccer in the US in the years to come.”
But then, after persistent and understandable questioning, Donovan admitted:
“I respect the decision, I just feel in my heart that I deserve to be there… I’m disappointed, I’m sad. I wanted to go, I really wanted to go… I think I was one of the better players in camp.  If I had gone in and didn’t think I deserved it then I can live with that, but that’s not the case here…. I think if I’m being judged based solely on what happened in camp then I absolutely deserve to be going to Brazil.”
Some anti-Donovan fans (and for the life of me I can’t understand why there would be a single one) have said these second comments were sour grapes.  I say they are nothing but honest and not disparaging. Who doesn't think they deserve to go?  Especially when you’ve done as much as Donovan has and come back and proven yourself all over again.  And let’s not forget that Donovan has historically been very accurate in his self-analysis.
Klinsmann made a mistake.  Donovan deserved to go over at least 3 or 4 other players, who won’t contribute at all while he would have.  I won’t get into who I think that is because it will do no good and if they do get their chance, I want to cheer them on without reservation. 
Yes, I'll still cheer for the US with all the vim and vigor of the fanatic that I am.  But a piece of me will miss seeing Captain America take the field for the stars and stripes for a much-deserved farewell World Cup tournament.

This is farlieonfootie for June 2. 

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