Alexi Lalas tweeted:
Again, life isn't fair and soccer isn't fair. A WC roster isn't about form, merit or history. It's simply a coach's preference.
— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) May 22, 2014
While the American soccer community have lost their collective shit over the omission of Landon Donovan, he is not the first great player to be unceremoniously cut from a national team by a new coach. Luis Aragonés omitted Spain’s leading goal scorer (at the time) and Real Madrid great Raul (30 at the time), from Euro 2008. Brazilian coach Dunga left 30 year-old Ronaldinho… (Or should I use Kaka as an example instead?), Ballon d’Or winner and arguable best player in the World only few years earlier, off the 2010 World Cup roster.
This is not meant to be snarky, crass, or mean spirited, but in the history of world football Donovan does not live in the same paragraph as Raul or Ronaldinho. Soccer isn’t fair. If is was Ghana, USA, Portugal or Germany would be split between Group E & G.
With the reality that the Group of Death awaits the USMNT in less than a month, Jurgen Klinsmann made the tough choices before the first friendly. No one appears to be pleased with the final 23-man roster.
Some names were not surprising: FW Terrence Boyd, MF Joe Corona, DM Maurice Edu and CB/FB Michael Parkhurst were all cut.
One cut leads to caution: CB Clarence Goodson. Omar Gonzalez’s poor performance in high-profile matches – Mexico in April and at Club Tijuana in the CONCACAF Champions League – raised speculation about Goodson actually starting a game.
And one was just cold blooded: RB/MF Brad Evans. Tommy Chandler did not return for Hex qualifying, meanwhile Seattle midfielder Brad Evans filled the void at right back for 5 matches. Evans, who plays midfield in Seattle, did yeoman’s work. For his effort, 20 year-old Sounders teammate DeAndre Yedlin, who failed to impress fans in his limited USMNT experience, got Evans’ ticket to Brazil.
Outside the core of starters that include Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Matt Besler, everyone else is the future, a specialist on the international level, or both. The lack of a tangible and unique skill set may have been the undoing for seven that missed the cut.
If Donovan was only to be used as a forward then Chris Wondolowski beat him out. Wondo has done what no other forward on the 30-man has, scored for both club and country. He has 9 goals in 11 appearances for the USMNT in both friendlies and Gold Cup. This season with the San Jose Quakes, he has 5 goals in 9 games. An early bounce back after playing most of 2013 with a broken foot that limited him to 11 goals.
While statistics are merely a good base for a World Cup resume, it is how he scores, specifically with the Quakes, that makes him a situational asset. The Quakes have been fun to watch over the past few seasons as they dig themselves into a hole and miraculously pull out a draw or victory in the final minutes. The soccer is not the attractive south of the border style Klinnsmann dreams the US will eventually play. It is tough, physical, direct and pragmatic with set piece goals and route one soccer in the dying minutes. Can you see the US down a goal or tied in the closing minutes? Altidore has spent 80 minutes running at the center backs, the game has broken down into 4 to 4 in each half with the occasional midfielder trying to win 50-50 balls in the middle to send a long ball in the box. The game degenerates into emergency defending and time wasting. That is 3 out of 5 San Jose games, Wondo’s movement can get him into space, score on the late run or poach a goal. Yes, you think Landon against Algeria World Cup 2010 in added time. That’s the moment the US may face in every game and Jurgen now trusts Wondo to win ugly more than Donovan.
Brad Davis is the ultimate specialist. No one can send consistent left footed crosses into the box better than Davis. The 32 year-old left midfielder isn’t blowing past anyone, but with Portugal’s João Pereira and Germany’s Philipp Lahm the likely starting right backs do not expect either to burn him down the flanks late in games either.
The right side of the midfield will be manned by Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya. San Zusi will be the more creative attacking options on the right, while Bedoya’s role is to defend the position. Neither are truly situational guys both each have a distinct role, perhaps whoever starts will provide a tell as to how the team will approach the match.
Mix Diskerud in central midfield would be a replacement for Bradley as an attacking midfielder. If the US strategy is to counterattack, it would be interesting to see him in a pivot role next to Jones in a 4-2-3-1. Mix’s vision can be a true asset on the counter with him making the first pass into traffic. Kyle Beckerman has the same ability as a pivot, but is better all-around defensively. The other man in that central mid/holding role is Jermaine Jones. Jones was a key part of qualifying as the gutsy box to box man to partner with the more tactically disciplined and talented Bradley. With the ascension of Beckerman, who is more defensively disciplined of the two, it will depend on the game plan to see which of those three make the starting XI.
If you want to blame Julian Green for Donovan’s absence, turn the anger toward the way international football operates. This is a hate the game, not a player situation. Unfortunately, Green now starts his international career with even greater expectations as most on twitter pointed to him as the player that got Landon’s ticket. If his international career falls somewhere between Cobi Jones and Landon Donovan, some would still consider him a failure.
Much like Brad Davis and Wondo, DeAndre Yedlin is a pure situational player with the added benefit of giving ‘the future’ World Cup exposure. Yedlin’s inclusion into the 30-man was a heated debate in the soccer community. New England Revolution’s RB/CB Andrew Farrell (0 caps) and to a lesser extent Puebla’s Michael Orozco (11 caps) were the most commonly named replacements. Yedlin, however, is truly unique to this roster as he is a pure wingback. Ultimately, Klinsmann’s vision of US soccer will require an attacking threat from the fullback position, similar to what the large majority of the top clubs and countries feature.
The issue with Yedlin, as with John Brooks, is neither inspired confidence while playing for the national team. Both born in 1993, the inclusion of both defenders does not necessarily signal that Klinsmann is waving the white flag a month before their first game. Short of poor training performance and fitness, it is difficult to argue that Brook’s has taken over Goodson. Yedlin, however, can fill a void if width is needed on the right flank late in games. If Bedoya is playing solid on the right and the US is controlling play in the midfield rather than sub him out for San Zusi, Yedlin becomes a better option. Yedlin can be a risk defensively, but most wingbacks are a risk; see Sergio Ramos.
The remaining defenders are less situational and more practical. Geoff Cameron can play both RB/CB similar to Michael Parkhurst, but does so at a higher level. Fabian Johnson, typically under the radar for us in the US, can play both fullback positions and has spent several years in Bundesliga league as a left back. The same can be said with Timothy Chandler, but his post Honduras qualifier exile does not give anyone a warm and fuzzy feeling. Was DaMarcus Beasley ticket to Brazil punched due to his versatility or for his service at fullback? Likely the former, as the latter was not even enough for Evans.
This roster, in its entirety, is the most talent the US has brought to the World Cup. The pool of players have evolved to a point where many are starters or focal points for their clubs, but the ability to have squad players fill roles and perform a specific skill at the international level is a watermark. Having the players to exploit an advantage or rise to a given situation can be the difference between three and out or advancing to the knockouts.