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"The point has come to make the decision"
May 25, 2014 9:04 AM   Subscribe

US Men's National Soccer Team coach Jürgen Klinsmann on Thursday announced the final 23 man roster for the upcoming World Cup. The roster did not include Landon Donovan (NYT)). Donovan, the USMNT's all-time scoring and assists leader and widely regarded as the best ever men's American footballer, has responded: "I think if I’m being judged based solely on what happened in camp then I absolutely deserve to be going to Brazil." Klinsmann says "I just see some other players slightly ahead of him."


Greg Howard: Landon Donovan Was Our Savior All Along (Deadspin)
If this explanation felt dubious and hollow, it's because it made no sense. Donovan had lost a step and gained a bit of weight, sure, but he was still one of the best five or six players on the team. Klinsmann, meanwhile, had elected to bring Green, young defenders John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin, old poacher Chris Wondolowski, and Brad fucking Davis. These guys are going to Brazil for a vacation. If they're not going to play, and if Donovan's not going to play, why not bring the greatest, most important American soccer player ever?
Stefan Fatsis: Why Jürgen Klinsmann Never Trusted Landon Donovan (Slate)
Without Donovan the U.S. doesn’t stand much of a chance in Brazil. And to be fair, they wouldn’t have had much of a chance with him on the field either. Given the national team’s status as a not-quite-contender, it’s possible that cutting Donovan is a move designed to bolster the team for the future, and to make it very clear that this is Klinsmann's team now.
Allison McCann: Should Landon Donovan Be Going to the World Cup? (538)
It will be difficult to know whether Klinsmann made the right decision until June 26, when the U.S. finishes the group stage of the tournament. Because of Donovan’s name recognition and fan following, his absence might hurt World Cup viewership in the U.S. But the fact that the men’s national team is finally bigger than one player is great news for soccer in America.
Graham Parker: The Landon Donovan Decision (Grantland)
In the end, Donovan may have scored more World Cup goals than any other U.S. player, and beyond Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, he may still be the best U.S. outfield player of his day, but when faced with the choice of building the best team for the next two months or laying the foundation for the next four years, Klinsmann has chosen the latter while making a sacrificial point about what he expects from them.
Ray Hudson is NOT pleased. SBNation's Twitter roundup. Donovan's extra time goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup again because why not.
posted by davidjmcgee (74 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

When the team inevitably tanks, Klinsmann will be blamed for excluding Donovan and be out of the job soon after. Good, because this decision was a pure ego play on his part.
posted by percor at 9:17 AM on May 25 [6 favorites]

Klinsmann always was a stubborn bastard.

The thought of taking Landycakes to avoid the utter shittfest that will occur when they crash out bottom of their group would've annoyed him intensely.

That said, it's a pretty bad team all round and it's not like taking Donovan would've blown their chances or even had any sort of appreciable effect.

For those Donovan fans who want to really stoke the fires of Jurgen hate I recommend this
posted by fullerine at 9:20 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

The US team is a World Cup also-ran in the best of circumstances. In this group they'll be lucky not to lose so badly that one or more team members melts from shame. Donovan wasn't going to change that. So sure, leave him home, whatever. You're admitting defeat, but that's not unjustified.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:26 AM on May 25 [5 favorites]

At least we have Tim Howard.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:27 AM on May 25

The questioning of Donovan's desire and love of the game due to his hiatus reminds me quite a bit of the reaction to Ricky Williams when he left the NFL for a few years. Williams had similar things to say about how the league doesn't have a great appreciation for the mental health of its players, and how he needed to take a break to regain his love for the game.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:39 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

I'm a very occasional fan of soccer but this feels like the classic prison strategy of "Go out and punch the biggest guy in the yard to assert you're not to be messed with."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:39 AM on May 25 [5 favorites]

I'm fine with Klinsi's decision. I don't think that we stood a chance making it out of group, so why not go young? I read that the U.S. has one of the oldest teams in the tournament at 27.2, per an LA Times article (though Portugal's average age is also up there at 27 or 28) and Donovan's getting a little long in the tooth, perhaps.
posted by TwoStride at 9:56 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

The current team has a combined total of 3 World Cup goals between them. Donovan has 5. No one has Donovan's WC experience, and no one will by the next WC either. Who gives a shit about who did what in "camp". That's all bullshit. Look at the numbers. I'm a bit angry about this decision. Of course the team was never going far, but it's nice when the team scores. Win or lose, you can cheer for that. Not this time, I guess. Asshole.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:15 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

Look at the numbers.

I've looked at the numbers, and I think Klinsmann knows more about scoring at World Cups than I do.
posted by biffa at 10:47 AM on May 25 [15 favorites]

Oh well in that case, why question it?
posted by Brocktoon at 11:04 AM on May 25

In what world is Julian Green a better pick than Landon Donovan? Green plays in the third or fourth German division. He might be a promising youngster, but is much less likely to score than Donovan. Klinsmann has allowed his pro-German bias and personal contempt for Donovan to get the better of him.
posted by Area Man at 11:14 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

The current team has a combined total of 3 World Cup goals between them. Donovan has 5.

Klinsmann has 11, but I guess that doesn't count :)
posted by effbot at 11:18 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

At least we have Tim Howard.

Chim-chimney chim-chimney chim-chim-cheroo
We've got Tim Howard and he says FUCK YOU!

Our team jerseys look like France! We don't stand a fucking chance!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:33 AM on May 25 [7 favorites]

No, it doesn't count. :)
posted by Brocktoon at 11:46 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Since 2002 I've learned not to count out an overmatched U.S. team. I also trust Klinsmann's judgment. Guy wants to win. I've loved watching Lando play, but the side is set, and I support the decision 100%. If we lose horribly and fail to advance in our group, it won't be because one player didn't make the cut.
posted by echocollate at 11:49 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

We never really had a chance to advance, truthfully, but now it's not even likely we will score a goal. No team advances without tested veterans, and we dumped the most tested and most veteran. Sorry for spamming.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:52 AM on May 25

I don't understand this concept I've been hearing of fielding a team for the future or whatever; the world cup comes along once every four years, and you should play the best team you can assemble at the time and do the best you can. Not everyone can get experience for the next one and they don't necessarily have to, though it's a nice bonus. From what I can tell, this seems to be a decision based more on personal antipathy than Donovan's current form, though I think his form of late has been off. I'm a bit disappointed, even if the U.S. doesn't stand much of a chance whether he's there or not.
posted by Red Loop at 11:55 AM on May 25

Donovan was a great player and had done a lot for US soccer. But he's way past his prime. The US is a big country with a lot of talented soccer players and continuing to trot out past heroes doesn't make a team stronger, it holds a team back. England eventually cut David Beckham too, you know.
posted by emd3737 at 11:56 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

The problem with putting Donovan on the 23 is that he still wouldn't be on the eleven, and that would be a problem. Nobody wants a benched "superstar" poisoning the team.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:01 PM on May 25 [5 favorites]

Anything that pisses off Ray Hudson is OK in my book.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:07 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

In what world is Julian Green a better pick than Landon Donovan? Green plays in the third or fourth German division.

Yeah, because he's playing for Bayern Munich II and isn't far off making Bayern's squad at 18. If you're the US, you have to at least give serious thought to taking him for the experience.

England eventually cut David Beckham too, you know.

And it was too late. Owen Hargreaves was essentially playing his position and Beckham's in 2006.
posted by hoyland at 12:08 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

England eventually cut David Beckham too, you know.

Right - and trying to fit an ageing but admired and politically influential David Beckham into the England team was a headache, especially for Fabio Cappello, who was clearly under pressure to help him across the line to be the most capped England outfield player in history - and if he hadn't been injured, the pressure to take him to the 2010 World Cup as a squad member would have been huge, even thought he would have struggled to get, or last, a game.

Beckham was 34 then, and Donovan is only 32, but then Beckham had never relied on pace and had never really been a conventional winger or forward player (and as Hoyland said was helped by industrious midfield bustling elsewhere in the team). And, as is mentioned in the coverage, Klinsmann has form on this - he was brought in specifically to make unpopular decisions in Germany, using his halo and star quality to shield Jogi Low and build a team for the future.

Obviously, if the US crash out, this is going to be huge in the post-match analysis. As it is, it feels like a gamble, and a statement of intent, certainly. And also quite a hostage to fortune...
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:07 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Beckham was first dropped by McClaren in a politically motivated decision which went the same as all of his other decisions, badly.

Part of the reason Capello picked Beckham was because when he was with Real Madrid he too dropped him for being too old and after seeing Beckham's supremely professional reaction Capello was impressed enough to bring him back for the end of the season where he helped win La Liga.

Beckham's entire career seemed to be one of being praised when he deserved criticism and criticised when he deserved praise. Exemplary professionalism with a limited skillset, which is as English as it gets.
posted by fullerine at 1:27 PM on May 25 [4 favorites]

On similar lines, I have to wonder why we're sticking with Lampard, Virtually guaranteed to be a disappointment when he pulls on an England shirt and always a lousy fit with Gerrard.
posted by biffa at 1:33 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

Beckham was first dropped by McClaren in a politically motivated decision which went the same as all of his other decisions, badly.

Well, exactly. McLaren wanted to show that he was in charge: that nobody was bigger than the team, and that the team was his team. And his team stopped playing for him, and only started again when Beckham was reinstated. If he had won the first four games tidily, it might have worked, but in combination with the general roomful of rakes experience that was his time as manager... well.

It feels like Klinsmann is not in the same spot - Donovan isn't as influential as a figure as Beckham, I think, and US football is less tribal generally - but if the USA crashes out without a goal scored he's going to have some uncomfortable questions to answer...
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:09 PM on May 25

1990 - bottom of their group (0 points)
1994 - second round
1998 - bottom of their group (0 points)
2002 - quarter finals
2006 - bottom of their group (1 point)
2010 - second round

The US team are definitely utterly doomed in 2014.
posted by dng at 2:34 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

On similar lines, I have to wonder why we're sticking with Lampard, Virtually guaranteed to be a disappointment when he pulls on an England shirt and always a lousy fit with Gerrard.

Because we are idiots. How many years have we been trying to play them together?

but if the USA crashes out without a goal scored he's going to have some uncomfortable questions to answer...

I can't help but think that if you're at the point where you're discussing not scoring a single goal as a realistic possibility, Landon Donovan is not going to save you.
posted by hoyland at 2:37 PM on May 25 [8 favorites]

I mean not scoring a single goal is a realistic possibility for any number of fairly decent teams. But usually you don't admit that going in.
posted by hoyland at 2:40 PM on May 25

Please tell me Ray Hudson isn't doing WC games.
posted by sporknado at 2:54 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I mean not scoring a single goal is a realistic possibility for any number of fairly decent teams. But usually you don't admit that going in.

It's relatively rare for a team at the world cup to not score a single goal (although more common again recently, since the World Cup has expanded to 32 teams).

1934- Everyone scored
1938 - Netherlands, Dutch East Indies (both of these only played one game, as there wasn't a group stage then)
1950 - Bolivia (Because other teams pulled out, Bolivia only played one game, which they then lost 8-0)
1954 - South Korea, Czechoslovakia, Scotland
1958, 1962, 1966 - Everyone scored
1970 - El Salvador
1974 - Australia, Zaire
1978, 1982 - Everyone scored
1986 - Canada
1990 - Everyone scored
1994 - Greece
1998 - Everyone scored
2002 - France, China, Saudi Arabia
2006 - Trinidad & Tobago
2010 - Honduras, Algeria

The only top team to ever manage it are France, really, when they were the worst defending champions possible. Poor France
posted by dng at 2:58 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Donovan is at least bound to be the best player now since the best player is always the one who doesn't play. I haven't seen Donovan play lately, but Klinsmann is great as a national coach - his Germany squad played more attractive football compared to previous tournaments, and he's been doing a good job with team USA, so I'd give him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by ersatz at 3:04 PM on May 25

I'm a huge fan of what Donovan has done in a US uniform. But I had a feeling this was coming since the 2010 World Cup. Simply put, he can't play forever and I trust Klinsmann's judgement on the matter.

Remember that in 2010, the US advancing to the round of 16 was by the narrowest of margins. They very easily could have been 0-2-1. If England's keeper doesn't have a brain fart and let a ball walk across the goal line in slow motion, or if Donovan doesn't have a loose ball manage to magically show up in front of him with a wide open net behind, the US goes home after three games. Klinsmann probably doesn't want to have to depend on luck to save his squad once they step between the lines.

The US lost against Ghana because they got beaten downfield by a more athletic team. If Donovan's lost enough of a step, then Klinsmann is right to leave him back he feels there's a better option. I don't think World Cup career goals is going to matter once the ball is kicked off next month. In the end, Klinsmann will have to answer if things go poorly or get a lot of credit if things go well; either way we're going to have something interesting to talk about in a few months.
posted by azpenguin at 3:06 PM on May 25 [5 favorites]

Germany, Portugal and Ghana are the other teams in team USA's World Cup group, for those who are unaware. So mefites, scores for team USA against those 3 teams?

Looking forward to the WC: Which France will turn up, how will Netherlands do with van Gaal, How Spain will cope with some of their players getting older, Will Ballotelli self destruct? And how will Englands kids do and how will roy play them in the heat and humidity of Manaus?

As for the USA, if Donovan has had a season like Gerrard then take him, else take kids for the experience like Germany did at WC 2010. (And like England)
posted by marienbad at 3:07 PM on May 25

But the fact that the men’s national team is finally bigger than one player is great news for soccer in America.


Yes, it's a risk, but I'm not sure I would call it major since the US is not really a contender anyway. There's an aspect of using the World Cup coverage to bolster awareness of soccer in the US, but I'm pretty sure most of the easy gains that way have already been made at this point, and MLS is really on as durable a footing as it can be.

Anyway, an untraditional (?) stat that might be perfect for Five Thirty Eight to look into is how much the US being the US in CONCACAF hurts us competitively. We have Mexico, sure, but every other team comes from a substantially smaller country (often with a much smaller immigrant population, whence many of our best players have come). As a result we pretty much dominate the Confederation by default, and this, it seems to me, hurts our ability to improve by playing tougher teams. Does this make BOTE sense to others? Yet despite that, and our history in particular the long WC drought, we have a 14th ranked team and comparable points to the venerable England side -- or even Italy. It's just that in terms of the Cup we have a history of choking that isn't really on par with other evaluations of the side.
posted by dhartung at 3:13 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

It's relatively rare for a team at the world cup to not score a single goal (although more common again recently, since the World Cup has expanded to 32 teams).

Oh, yeah - that was a nightmare scenario. That said, the US is in a group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana - it's certainly possible that they won't win a single game, and could possibly lose every game without playing particularly badly. No goals at all would be super depressing, though.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:25 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Pethaps the USA could swap with Israel in UEFA? They're not actually in Europe geographically so would be six of one and half a dozen of the other.
posted by biffa at 3:26 PM on May 25

This feels like a plan to get into Eurovision by the back door...
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:26 PM on May 25

The US will never be a contender! Sheesh. Briefly it was about being able to get to the second round. Now it's about just getting a point, or scoring a goal. If neither of those things happen, just how "big" a team will it be? Who cares how "big" the team is if we don't score any goals? Let's just score a goddamn goal and not embarrass ourselves too badly.
posted by Brocktoon at 3:36 PM on May 25

Donovan has been pretty flaky for his entire playing career. He won the Golden Boot as the best player at the 1999 U17 World Cup but underperformed at the 2000 Olympics. After the U17s he signed with Leverkusen in Germany but he washed out and orchestrated a loan to MLS, admitting he was homesick. Became a star with the San Jose Earthquakes and had a breakout performance in the 2002 World Cup, including a massive goal against Mexico to seal the Dos-a-Cero in the Round of 16. But at the ’06 World Cup in Germany he was basically non-existent, later saying, in effect, that his head wasn't in the game. He chafed after Beckham turned up in Los Angeles 2007 and took the armband for the Galaxy, and his loan to Bayern Munich (under Klinsmann) in '09 was an abject failure. But at the 2010 World Cup he was the essential man for the U.S., scoring a critical goal against Slovenia and of course the game-winner vs. Algeria. He subsequently had two good loan spells to Everton. His performances since 2010 for the US have been spotty, and he took a year-long sabbatical from the sport. No wonder Klinsmann doesn't trust him.

Up and down, up and down. Maybe that's how most careers go. I would rather see him on the team than some of the other choices, but it's not like he's been absolute go-to guy for the US in big tournaments. And I always wondered why he was never the captain for the U.S.
posted by stargell at 4:11 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Side-note to the above: I sat behind Donovan's mom and twin sister at the 2002 game against Mexico in Jeonju, Korea. That was fun.

Side-note II: My son and I were 10 rows up near the corner in Pretoria in 2010 when Donovan scored that goal against Algeria. As the US players dog-piled in the corner in celebration, I was desperately fiddling with my camera to see if I'd recorded the goal (didn't; hit the wrong button) and when I looked back up there was a scuffle about five rows down in front of us. I asked my son what was going on.

He says, "They're fighting for the ball."

"The ball?" I say.

"Yeah," he says. "I had it in my hands. Somebody kicked it into the crowd, and I caught it. But those guys down there asked me to throw it to them, so I did."

I was set to be mad until I saw about six South African security guys in big scuffle with the fans who were trying to keep the ball.

Still wish I'd caught the whole scene on video. Then people would believe the story.
posted by stargell at 4:13 PM on May 25 [4 favorites]

Yet despite that, and our history in particular the long WC drought, we have a 14th ranked team

The FIFA rankings are hopelessly opaque, but I think being good in CONCACAF paradoxically might inflate your ranking a bit. (Or so everyone who suspects the US probably isn't the 14th best team in the world would have to conclude.) You take a hit for being in CONCACAF (but a little less of a hit than you do for being in CAF) and for your confederation opponents, but you'll get a bonus from the Gold Cup (since you'll progress further than a comparable team would in the UEFA or CONMEBOL tournament) and for having an easy route into the Confederations Cup, which has high-value matches. The US, Mexico and Canada don't have to qualify for the Gold Cup and it's hard to tell what effect that has--they'll miss out on a bunch of likely victories, but they'd be fairly low value victories.
posted by hoyland at 4:16 PM on May 25

I actually think Portugal might shit itself in this group. Something about Ronaldo's excessive celebration of a generous penalty in an already decided match.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:39 PM on May 25

Oh, he was just selling underwear.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:37 PM on May 25

OK, so I'm secretly hoping Portugal shits itself, just to keep people from driving around my neighborhood, honking and waving flags for hours after each match.

Of course, they'll do that for Brasil as well.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:46 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I would love to see him play in as many games as possible, but if so, sorry for your troubles!
posted by Brocktoon at 7:42 PM on May 25

Ronaldo is obligated to remove his shirt once per match, so imagine how relieved he was to finally get that PK and make it.

It's true that the US are in the group of death and true that they play in what is considered the hardest stadium in this year's cup. It's also true that they don't seem to have their strongest side, and are in general considered lucky to get to the round of 16 in any cup.

That said, they are as usual an athletic team, but for once one with upside. There are several young players who could break out and use their athleticism to their advantage against more skilled competition. I'm in the minority but I think this team can escape their group through a series of punishing draws and a close win and then surprise someone in the round of 16.

With regard to Donovan, he's definitely one of the best current US players but isn't apparently a fit for this team. I do think they will miss him, but not enough to turn the tide. I've got faith in Klinsman and believe he's building the best side he can for this particular challenge.
posted by chaz at 8:23 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I constantly vacillate on the US' chances at the World Cup. On any given day I might find myself believing we could, with a lot of luck in who wins the other groups, make it to the semis. The next day I'm convinced they won't even get a goal.

In my heart of hearts, though, I believe this team is better than than the sum of its parts. I look at players like Bradley, Dempsey, Howard, and Altidore (lol I know, I know) and I know they're smart guys. They know they're going to be the underdogs, they know nothing is expected from them and I can't help but think they and Klinsman will know how to take advantage of that.

But really I just don't know because I don't know what team will be playing when the ref blows the whistle against Ghana. The most optimistic part of me imagines this is on purpose. Klinsman wants to obfuscate the US' final style of play as much as possible to keep the opposing teams guessing for as long as possible.

And finally, none of the teams in this group are invincible. Germany (amazing, incredible team, don't get me wrong) are battling some injuries. Portugals fortunes depend a lot on which Ronaldo decides to show up (the beast mode from their play-in versus Sweden or the one who largely disappeared in yesterday's CL final) and Ghana who are a strong team, but young.

Saying all that, I still think it can go either way. We might place second in the group (I really don't think we win it) or we might only score a single goal. But I really don't buy into this narrative that the US are utterly doomed and will not advance, no way. Just like every other country, it all depends on which team shows up.
posted by Tevin at 8:23 PM on May 25

Anyway, an untraditional (?) stat that might be perfect for Five Thirty Eight to look into is how much the US being the US in CONCACAF hurts us competitively. We have Mexico, sure, but every other team comes from a substantially smaller country (often with a much smaller immigrant population, whence many of our best players have come). As a result we pretty much dominate the Confederation by default, and this, it seems to me, hurts our ability to improve by playing tougher teams. Does this make BOTE sense to others?

Not really, to be honest. To qualify from CONCACAF, you play in a group with the US, Mexico and the four hottest Central American / Caribbean teams (Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica). To pick a European team at semi-random, the Dutch qualified by playing a group containing Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Estonia and Andorra - hardly the group of death. Generally, a UEFA qualifying group includes one top-ranked team, one at the US/Mexico level, one that is of similar skill to the CONCACAF hexagonal teams, and three minnows.

In any case, the true place players gain skill is with their clubs; a few well-matched friendlies to get the team playing together is all everybody has before the World Cup.
posted by Ed The Sock at 8:31 PM on May 25

It's very possible that the USA won't score in this WC. Germany is a class higher, Portugal is far better, and Ghana is definitely better.
As for Donovan, I think if Klinsman thought he would help them win, he'd bring him no matter how much he dislikes him. Donovan is past his prime.
posted by librosegretti at 8:42 PM on May 25

Portugal has a knack for underperforming, just as the US has a knack for overperforming. And it's the World Cup; better teams lose to worse teams all the time. Spain's breeze last WC was unusual. So I'm not sure what t expect in this group.

Also, fwiw, I think Dempsey is our best player.
posted by sporknado at 8:50 PM on May 25

True re: Portugal, but I think they are still much better than the US.
Also true re better losing to worse; in 2010 New Zealand finished above Italy, and Spain lost to Switerland.
It's strange to think that until 2008, Spain were the underperformers of Europe.
posted by librosegretti at 9:04 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

In the first game after this snub, Landon Donovan finally scored his first two goals of the season as the LA Galaxy defeated the Philadelphia Union 4-1. In the tenth game of the season. He, the big goal scorer, finally scored in the tenth game of the season. He has three assists.

That doesn't scream "must be on the team" to me. That screams "I'm slowing down."
posted by blob at 9:58 PM on May 25 [3 favorites]

The simple truth is if the US was in UEFA they would rarely qualify for the World Cup.
Teams who missed out this World Cup from UEFA include Serbia, Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic and Ukraine who are all stronger than the current USA team.
Of the teams who qualified, possibly Bosnia are about the same level of the US the rest are very much stronger.

You're welcome to swap places with Wales, perhaps we'd qualify for one of the bloody things then.
posted by fullerine at 10:16 PM on May 25

As others have noted, the US isn't going to make it out of group. Hell, I'd be half surprised to see the US score.

I'd be okay with Klinsmann saying that he went to a young team for this cup since it's a washout for the US anyway. If he said, look Donovan won't be there in 2018 and I'm building the team of the future. I can respect a coach who says that. But that's not what he said. "I just see some other players slightly ahead of him." That's some exquisite bullshit. Donovan - even Donovan losing a step - is a better and more experienced player than what's on the roster.
posted by 26.2 at 1:30 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

I'm not a soccer fan, but I find the World Cup irresistible, mostly because of how berserk Japan went when the cup was held here and in Korea. The school I taught at canceled classes and had the students pile into the auditorium to watch a game (that kind of thing just doesn't happen here). I was at home, watching a Japan game with the windows open, and I could hear people all around my neighborhood shouting and cheering whenever it seemed like they might score a goal. Since then, I've always kind of felt like Japan was my adopted team. I've never been to a J League game (and probably won't anytime soon) but I love that more and more Japanese players are getting experience abroad. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that they're going to get slaughtered in Brazil.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:19 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Japan has a tough group, with Columbia, Greece, and Ivory Coast. I can see Japan beating Greece but the other two will be a tough ask, especially in the heat of Brasil.

Interesting question about team USA - So Klinnsman doesn't take Donovan, how much of that decision is based on the climate in Brazil, and the fact that Donovan is older, or is it just his scoring ratio this season? I ask because there was talk elsewhere about England playing a back 3 because trying to have proper full-backs who also play on the wing and over-lap running back and forth in the heat and humidity would be infeasible. I wonder how the conditions will affect the teams tactics, and whether they are going to have a drink break, as reports seem to indicate may happen.


Cards on the table time, mefites. I am saying now, Argentina - they have the best team, and the thought of winning the World Cup in the Maracana in Brazil must shurely inspire them on.
posted by marienbad at 5:39 AM on May 26


Argentina or Germany.
Sentimental long-shot favorites: Uruguay and Belgium.
I can hardly bear to discuss how dire England are.
posted by librosegretti at 6:46 AM on May 26

The group stage of the World Cup is such a small sample size that anything can happen. One bad call, freak goal, untimely injury or boneheaded coaching decision can have hugely exaggerated influence on a team's group-stage performance. Three games is really not enough to evaluate the quality of a national side, unless that team is completely out of its class (think China and Saudi Arabia in 2002).

The U.S. is in a very large middle of the pack in the World Cup, and its results since 1990 have been wildly uneven.

• 1990: Crushed by Czechoslovakia but nearly got a point against Italy.

• 1994: Beat highly regarded Colombia, lost to less regarded Romania, only advanced to second round because some third-place teams advanced that year. Then lost to eventual champion Brazil only 1-0 despite losing captain Tab Ramos to a fractured skull from an elbow by Leonardo.

• 1998: Miserable performance on the heels of a locker room scandal that saw captain John Harkes dropped from the team before the World Cup. Harkes was sleeping with striker Eric Wynalda's wife.

• 2002: Shocked Portugal in the opener, valiantly tied home team Korea (thanks to a Brad Friedel penatly save), then collapsed against Poland and only moved on by virtue of Korea (which had already secured advancement) beating a pathetic Portugeuse team. (Figo allegedly approached a Korean player to settle for a gentleman's tie that would have seen both teams through.) The U.S. were fortunate to draw Mexico, a team they had a big psychological advantage over, in the Round of 16. And if not for a crap non-penalty call by Scottish ref Hugh Dallas (which also would have resulted in a red card on Torsten Frings), the Americans might have advanced to the semifinals and played Korea.

• 2006: Utterly humiliated by the Czech Republic, fought Italy to a standstill (the only team to get a point off of the Azurri in the tournament) and victimized by a bad penalty call against Oguchi Onyewu in the decisive third match against Ghana.

• 2010: Against England, suffered by Bradley's decision to play the outclassed Rico Clarke but benefited from Robert Green's goalkeeping blunder and nearly stole the win on Altidore's shot off the post. Slovenia: Edu's game-winner inexplicably waived off by Malian referee. Algeria: Needed last-gasp Donovan miracle to advance. The U.S. were beaten by a better Ghana side in the R16.

So huge contingencies played a role in the Americans' best-ever World Cup performance in '02 and the Round of 16 in '94 and '10, and a weird sex scandal sunk the team in '98. And of course, other contingencies could have swayed things in other directions.

That's why it's hard to get a handle on how good the U.S. is. And the fact that there is no high-stakes, high-quality tournament for the U.S. in between World Cups (the Gold Cup is no Euro or Copa America) means it's practically impossible to judge the team against others in the second tier, except for Mexico, which we play so frequently. (The US will be hosting an expanded Copa America in 2016, so we'll get a better gauge against quality South American sides.)

I wouldn't be surprised if the U.S. advanced out of this 2014 group, with a win over Ghana, a draw against Portugal and a loss to Germany. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the U.S. lose all three games and not score.

Interestingly enough, though three games is usually not enough to judge a team by, seven games is. The tournament is always won by one of the best teams; or at least, no underdogs have ever made it past the semifinals. So we will see a true champion by the final whistle in Rio on July 13. I don't think it will be the U.S.
posted by stargell at 8:40 AM on May 26 [4 favorites]

I've got to solidly agree with blob's point. If you haven't been watching MLS this year, you haven't seen what a completely useless player Dandon Lonovan has been. And let's face it, MLS is at least four tiers below World Cup play, if one is honest. So yeah, I'm totally down with Jürgen on this.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 12:19 PM on May 26

Ad far as World Cup winner goes, I've been saying Argentina/Brazil final with Argentina taking the win, 3-2, for really the same reason you pointed out marienbad. The thought of stealing the cup from Brazil on their turf is probably drool inducing.
posted by Tevin at 12:38 PM on May 26

Yeah, I watched the Galaxy play this year and it's not pretty. The question isn't if Donovan has lost a bit, because yeah he has. The question is whether the players going are better.
posted by 26.2 at 2:21 PM on May 26

League play, anywhere in the world, is so far removed from WC play, that it can only be used to vet youngsters reliably. Veterans are judged by fitness and previous int'l experiences (England doesn't subscribe to this notion, hence their chronic issues). At only 32, Donovan was our best chance to just score a goal, even coming off the bench. And Tim Howard is our best player I think; Dempsey is meh.
posted by Brocktoon at 3:14 PM on May 26

I think that there was a lot of psychological power in having Donovan on the bench. Maybe he's not a full-game guy anymore, but off the bench his experience is worth a lot, I'd think. But what do I know; I still miss Reyna and Agoos and Pope.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:37 PM on May 26

I just don't understand why Klinsmann would saddle himself to the Donovan legacy. If the USA make it out of the group, JK's a genius! If they fail, as seems very likely, all anyone will talk about is Donovan's exclusion whether or not that is germane. A strange decision.

Donovan's gotten a lot of shit in his life (please let me never read "landycakes" again) but he's the face of USA soccer and, holy shit is he responsible for some awesome memories.

Hard to see this move working out for Klismann since the USA do seem doomed.

Maybe Portugal will implode, maybe Ghana will suck, maybe the USMNT will step up and absolutely kill it, but that's a ton of maybes and it's hard to see them all happening. That being said, Geoff Cameron plays for Stoke City and there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by josher71 at 5:35 PM on May 26 [1 favorite]

England's issues stem from their obsession with stars, on the other hand. They don't reliably look for talent from teams that aren't the big teams.
posted by josher71 at 5:36 PM on May 26

Oh, and Spain will win again.
posted by josher71 at 5:40 PM on May 26

I have no rationale for my anger at this decision. It's sentimentality, I guess, and sentimentality does not win games. Folks have been making good points on either side of this move. But to me, Landon Donovan has always been that dude and I wanted to see him get another chance.

I predict two draws and a one-sided loss to Germany.
posted by GrapeApiary at 9:11 AM on May 27

World Cup/Brazilian Street Art
posted by josher71 at 9:18 AM on May 27

I just heard an interview with Coach Bradley. He wouldn't comment on the Landon Donovan decision (good for him), but did have thoughts about Ghana and how to defeat them. He has now lost to them in the last world cup while coaching the U.S. and played them twice while coaching Egypt during the attempt to qualify for this world cup (one win, one loss, and Ghana qualified based on a big aggregate lead in goals). He has watched lots of tape of the team and given lots of thought on how to beat them. He says Ghana is obviously very good, but can get sloppy when pressured. He mentioned weakness on defense and inconsistent goal tending.
posted by Area Man at 6:19 AM on June 3

Klinsmann profiled in NYT
"We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet,” Klinsmann told me over lunch in December. “For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament."
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:03 PM on June 4

It's fun to read threads with predictions.
posted by inigo2 at 12:06 PM on June 17

It will be in a weeks time when the group stages are mostly sorted out, and for those groups that aren't sorted, its do-or-die. Spain could be out in 3 hours time!!
posted by marienbad at 11:34 AM on June 18

I saw some really happy Chileans in downtown Minneapolis. They had their jerseys on and were shouting and banging a drum. It was great.
posted by Area Man at 6:40 PM on June 18

Oh, wow. The USA beat Ghana, who I was expecting to outmuscle them. Meanwhile, Spain have been dumped out of the World Cup after two games, and Australia gave the Netherlands a shock with an absolute wondergoal before bravely succumbing.

This is turning out to be a pretty great World Cup on the pitch, although off the pitch... surely someone has linked to the John Oliver FIFA bit, right?
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:41 AM on June 19

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