Two years ago, Jurgen Klinsmann shocked the soccer world – or at least the U.S. soccer world – by not including Landon Donovan on his World Cup roster.
At the time, Donovan was heartbroken.
“That was the first time in my career that something didn’t go my way,” Donovan said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “So it was really hard for me and I realized I was really lucky because most people go through that in their careers more than that. I have people come up to me today – literally today – and say, ‘I’m so pissed at Jurgen for not taking you.’ What I realized is that the reason it resonated with people is because everybody’s gone through something in their life that felt that way. They’re on different levels and different walks of life, but they felt, ‘I should have got the job and this person did. I got fired when I didn’t deserve to be fired.’ Everybody’s gone through something like that, and I think that’s why it resonated.”
Donovan, 34, spoke with Klinsmann a few months ago about the snub.
“He said, ‘Listen, as a coach, your job is to make decisions that are best for 23 players,’” Donovan recalled. “If he tells me that, I have to take his word that he thought that was the best decision for the team. So it’s good to hear that and to see that perspective – because when you’re in it, it’s all about you. . . . Time gives you the opportunity to look at it differently and have some perspective. That, along with hearing him in his words say it, was good for me. It was good to have some closure.”
Donovan, it is worth noting, has been encouraged by Klinsmann’s work with the U.S. national team, especially over the last six months. The COPA America stood out, in particular.
“You can tell when a team likes each other and when a team doesn’t like each other,” Donovan said. “You could tell that they were in it together. That, to me, comes down to good coaching. . . . I don’t always agree with his decisions. I think there are things he does very well. I think there are some things he has struggled at but I think he’s also remedied.”
Granted, Argentina beat the U.S., 4-0, in the COPA semifinal.
“The disparity between Argentina and the U.S. in men’s soccer is not that big,” Donovan said, “but Argentina goes into that game saying, ‘Listen, they’d have to play really well and we’d have to play awful for it to be a game in that way.’ The problem was, Argentina played really well from the first minute and the U.S. were just shell-shocked. A coach can do all the preparation they want. If you do all this preparation in a basketball game and it’s 28-3 after the first quarter, all of that goes out the window. Your game plan is out the window. You’re chasing the game now. It’s totally different. That’s what happened.”
Still, Gottlieb doesn’t understand how small countries with few resources can beat the U.S. in a a major sport.
“The answer to me is in the coaching and the teaching,” Donovan said. “Everybody is playing. Maybe you don’t see a LeBron James out there, but you see some really good athletes. When I grew up, my first coach had a baseball hat, a clipboard, a whistle and baseball spikes. They didn’t know what they were teaching me. I was an outlier because I just made it by practicing more than everybody else. That’s the reality. Now if we get people who actually care about developing these kids as players, but also as people, we’re going to have a Messi one day. We’re going to have a Cristiano Ronaldo, we’re going to have a Neymar – we’re going to have players like this. Until we get to that point, it ain’t happening. It starts with the teaching and the coaching at a young age. We still don’t have enough of it.”