Landon Donovan is not going to the World Cup. As taking a sabbatical and playing a bit role in qualifying, the US coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, has decided the all-time leading goalscorer is past it. Rather, to use Klinsmann’s own terms, there are players who are a little bit ahead of him at the moment.
That’s fine. Players age. Players get replaced by younger players. However, nobody has privy, insider information to Jurgen’s thought process. Instead, the soccerverse is polluted by analogies to past player omissions. Some say that the call is like when Jurgen left a certain Kuranyi striker off the German squad in 2006. Others recall when Pep Guardiola shipped off an aging and uninspired Ronaldinho upon arriving at FC Barcelona.
These analogies and comparisons are fine – they are the bread and butter of soccer writing. But they also have a clearly defined limit. They are a bit, shall we say, yawnable. Thus, here are some analogies to break the bubble, to help you cope with Landon playing in MLS, not Brazil.
The Landon Decision is like the end of Where the Red Fern Grows
Most Americans have either read the book “Where the Red Fern Grows” or seen the movie. Basically, a family lives on a farm and they have a dog. Time passes. The boy who loved the dog grows up, and the dog gets a bit long in the tooth. Eventually, the dog’s best moments are behind it, but the family and the boy are still emotionally attached. Despite this, they end up shooting the dog.
Jurgen Klinsmann has shot the dog. You couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. In fact, I don’t even own a gun. For over a decade, Donovan was the US player who bordered on being an all-star. Despite his failed stints in Bavaria, he lit the nets aflame for Everton on loan. He also had great World Cups in 2002 and 2010.
But that’s the past. Eventually, Donovan was going to have to go to where the red fern grows. We’d like to pretend not, but it happens. It has to.
The Landon Decision is like the Wrath of Khan
Everybody loved Spock from Star Trek, even if he was an aloof know-it-all prick (the character). In that same sense, fans grew to love Donovan despite his weird personality. On the one hand, we can never really know LD. A rumor circled that he fathered a kid in Liverpool and he said if it was true, he’d be responsible. It turned out to be a lie. Another time, while on a mini-van ride to USMNT practice, the players stopped to help a woman in an accident and he personally held her hand to comfort her.
On the other hand, his interview about his divorce to his then-actress wife came off poor. He said that he felt trapped, and then managed to understand his dad who also left him and his siblings when he was young. Definitely a WTF moment. He also dedicated his clutch goal vs. Algeria to his ex-wife. Lastly, he preferred to tell a reporter about his grievances with David Beckham for a book, rather than speaking man-to-man.
Ultimately, we don’t really know much about Donovan, but there’s a chance he was like Spock from Wrath of Khan – infected with a terrible disease and best shipped to outer space. Is there a chance of a comeback? Definitely.
The Landon Decision is like the “The Decision” decision
Do you remember the ESPN special made-for-tv event where LeBrown James announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and signing for the Miami Heat? Forget the production values, but imagine you are an employer – you have employed an employee for years. Every paycheck has been on time. Your business has grown and you are happy with your employee. However, you realize that your employee has his eye on a competitor.
Would you prefer for that employee to inform you of his resignation in a private meeting, well in advance of his resignation date, with a small group of upper management? Or on a cable television network in front of millions? Yeah, that’s what I thought. In sum, there’s a certain way to do things.
I don’t know if Klinsmann leaked the roster announcement, but a surprisingly steady stream of “quasi-scoops” are coming out of Taylor Twellman’s twitter account. Perhaps USSF is just dropping the ball on confidentiality, like the ESPN documentary/Belgium “closed doors” friendly mini-debacle. The word dropping via 140 characters first, before Jurgen’s mince words, almost invited his son’s inappropriate comments.
The Landon Decision is like a utopian planet episode of Star Trek TNG
There have been a ton of variations of this episode, but here’s a refresher: the Star Trek Enterprise comes upon a beautiful planet. It is inhabited by super smart, super attractive, humanly entities that seem to always get along. The crew has a blast until, shit, somebody makes a mistake like stepping on somebody else’s lawn. Then comes the price of perfection: immediate death.
Players have been griping about Klinsmann since the earliest qualifiers. Everybody knows that he’s super into fitness and motivational speeches. This approach failed spectacularly at Bayern Munich, but, with national teams, the “I believe in you….that you can run faster” schtick doesn’t wear off due to less exposure. Still, for the Jurgen-verse, let’s pretend that the beep test, that wholly grail of pain and anaerobic fitness, is the key to his Utopian universe.
You either can pass the beep test (a certain level), or you can’t. It doesn’t matter if you are Captain Kirk or Picard or Data or whoever, you get kicked off the planet if you don’t. Or worse.
The Landon Decision is like a Hunter Thompson “I was there” collection of Rolling Stone essays/columns
Thompson’s coverage of the failed McGovern campaign for Presidency is legendary. Basically, Hunter tailed along the Democratic ticket from the primaries until election night in November. He saw the rise of McGovern “the anti-candidate” and then the spectacular flop of “McGovern the another bumbling politician.” Thompson’s keen eye saw that McGovern’s failure to properly vet Vice Presidential candidates and then awful PR damage control placed him in the public’s eye as a typical opportunist flip-flopper.
Thompson’s essays today are still relevant, but they don’t hit Democrats in the gut like they did once. His unflinching observations and sound conclusions read more like a Poly Sci 101 “Cause/Effect Electioneering” essay than a tome that threatened to dissect the party. In large part, that’s because society has changed – we’re all a little more Hunter. Additionally, the Democratic Party reacted and healed the wounds, making it ultimately stronger.
Klinsmann dumping Donovan makes sense if you accept he’s not fit, he’s over 30, and he’d be expected to play in harsh, humid conditions as a wide midfielder – perhaps the most (shuttle) running and sprinting of any position. For over a decade, Donovan had a chance to prove he could play striker or second striker like Deuce. He never nailed that spot. And, as a wide midfielder, you notice how much tread is on the tire a lot quicker.
So, the question is, how will soccer react? For US fans, we’ve been like the Democrat party and McGovern during his campaign: “He’s our man”! We’ve glanced over his major flaws (like, say, taking a fucking break at the start of qualifying) to focus on either statistics or a handful of moments from years past. Yes, Landon is now the MLS leading scorer. But you know what, Jason Kreis and Jeff Cunningham also scored a lot of goals in MLS. Care to have seen them on a US roster?
In sum, there’s no time like the present to ditch the past. My heart would have loved to have seen Landy play until his 40′s at a high level, but the Madlinis, Giggs, and Zanettis of this world are few and far between. Donovan’s omission inspires lots of fear and a bit of loathing, but that’s at our inability to imagine a US soccer team without Donovan, not the reality. As US soccer grows, another kid will step in and eventually up. And they may actually be better.