While attending the Colorado Rapids match this past Saturday night I had the chance to talk with several soccer fans about the choice Jurgen Klinsmann made in leaving Landon Donovan off the World Cup roster. Donovan scoring two goals and breaking the career MLS goals record did not make the argument any easier. Although beating the record held by the infamous bad guy Jeff Cunningham was a plus. The time has come for Landon Donovan to head off into the sunset if the United States wants to compete with the top countries in the world.
After 154 caps for the United States with the most assists and goals of all time I think he sealed his fate when he went on sabbatical. I watched one of the series of documentaries with Klinsmann talking about how soccer is a full time job. Jurgen talked about how he wants the best players to go to Europe to compete in that soccer economy. I would compare it to the cell phone before Apple got into the game. Flip phones or the Nokia handset were the standard bearer. When a transformational company and product came to market, the phone game changed. Nokia lost market share and eventually was pushed out of the biggest world economy, the United States. I don't fault Donovan for taking money and staying in the USA, but if he wanted to be a more complete player you go to where the best competition is played.
Maybe the trans-formative presence is Jurgen Klinsmann. Change is hard for people to understand. The first question I asked was, (Were you at the L.A. game a few weeks ago?) If they answered yes then I said you have less of a leg to stand on then Herschel from The Walking Dead. Donovan didn't do much against the Rapids when the Gals lost 1-0 at DSG Park in early May. He should be near his peak physical condition at that point. He definitely didn't look near that. Rapids fans have watched Donovan for his entire career in the Western Conference. If the Landon fans still did not concede I gave them the evidence of Donovan not scoring in MLS this season and the Galaxy's early form of out of the playoff picture as being due to the fact that their best players are approx. 32 and 50 years old. Robbie Keane has his own birther movement.
Donovan is a generational talent for the U.S. Getting a coach and leader for the entire countries soccer operation might be better for years to come. Klinsmann is a player in the international community. Having held high positions at prestigious places. Everybody talks about how to create better soccer players. MLS having the homegrown option has caused teams to open academies across the country. Notably the Rapids in North Carolina. Shane O'Neill abstained from college to learn the professional game and has a future at least in the MLS and maybe more by being called up by the national team. Giving credit to Jurgen for that would be wrong but it shows a changing tide for soccer in the country.
For the USA to attract a coach with the pedigree of Klinsmann is a credit to where our system is headed. We as U.S. fans should give Jurgen a little more latitude with his decisions. Klinsmann has matched his predecessor by winning the hex. If he beats Ghana then it's all gravy. The United States is not expected to win the World Cup. With a transformational leader who has been apart of several world class programs he can change those expectations by changing the game here at home.
That's why we should celebrate Landon Donovan. As Rapids fan would attest, the past few years with a few coaching changes come departure of favorite players. Pablo Mastroeni left under less then honorable conditions. But returned as a legend. The sting hurts at first. Most U.S. soccer fans don't know anyone else and qualifying for every World Cup with Donovan being a major part. Maybe it's the ADD of social media. Maybe it's the 24-hour news cycle that struggles for stories when the NFL is in it's off-season. If an institution has an opportunity to have a transformational leader and turn into Apple you have to take that chance if you don't want to be stuck being Nokia.