Left Behind

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Landon Donovan Excluded From US World Cup Squad

By Greg Hudson
 
When the United States Men’s National Team touches down in Rio next month for the 2014 World Cup, they’ll be without their all-time leading goal-scorer Landon Donovan.
 
Donovan, 32, has scored 57 goals in 156 games for the USMNT in 14 years since his promotion to the team as just an 18-year-old. His five World Cup goals tally more than Leonel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Robin van Persie combined.
 
Yet on Thursday, when USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann named his 23-man roster for Brazil, Donovan and several other veteran players had been scratched and replaced with youngsters who have yet to prove their mettle in international competition, to the shock of fans across the country.
 
But while shocking, Klinsmann’s decision isn’t entirely unheard of: in fact, it’s more common than one would think. Major countries, including those favored to reach the semi-finals or even win the World Cup this summer, have made significant strides to add youth and energy to their sides.
 
England, looking to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966, have named eight players under age 24 to their 23-man roster, including 18-year-old Luke Shaw and 19-year-old Raheem Sterling.
 
The ever-menacing German team has 11 players age 24 or younger in its side, and has excluded from its ranks the likes of Mario Gomez and Piotr Trochowski in order to make way for a younger generation of players like Marco Reus and Mario Gotze.
 
Finally, let’s look at host country Brazil. 2010 captain Lucio, and standout midfielder Lucas are both missing from this year’s team sheet, as are veteran strikers Robinho and Luis Fabiano whose sensational careers are still very much in action.
 
The trend in the “youth-enization” of teams expands beyond international competition, with clubs like Liverpool in England, Atletico Madrid in Spain, and Bayern Munich in Germany gaining high esteem for utilizing younger players to great effect. So is Klinsmann’s decision understandable.
 
To a certain extent, yes it is. Young players, while often lacking the maturity to handle the pressures of such a high-stress environment as a World Cup, bring energy, creativity, and a certain level of fearlessness that comes with inexperience, and a USMNT that has often struggled of late to find ways to score in games that matter could really use that injection of pace and confidence.
 
But at a World Cup, each team needs a born leader. The USMNT has that in goalkeeper Tim Howard, but had it in Landon Donovan as well, and perhaps in a more meaningful way. It was Donovan’s stoppage time goal against Algeria that put the U.S. into the knockout stages of the World Cup in 2010, and his experience and leadership could prove to be just a valuable as the youth and energy he’s been left behind to accommodate.
 
The team’s performance in Brazil this summer, and how the decision to leave Landon Donovan behind effects that performance, could make or break Jurgen Klinsmann’s career as the USMNT manager.
 
But more importantly, it’s a sign that in world football, there’s truly no glory without gutsy desicions. Will this one pay off? The world will watch and see.
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