STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Jurgen Klinsmann tried to dance around the questions: Why take unproven youngsters to the World Cup and leave Landon Donovan home?
A day after announcing his momentous decision to drop the most accomplished player in American men’s soccer, the U.S. coach hinted at answers without ever saying specifically why Donovan was among the final seven cuts.
“As a coach, you have to make a decision based on what you want to execute in Brazil, what you want to see, how do you want to build those components into the entire group. And then I felt — we coaches felt — the guys that we chose, they’re a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas,” Klinsmann said Friday.
The 32-year-old Donovan, the American record holder with 57 international goals and second with 156 appearances, was trying to make his fourth World Cup roster. He is scoreless in seven games with the Los Angeles Galaxy this season, and Klinsmann dropped him from the roster for the first half of 2013 after Donovan took a four-month sabbatical.
Asked for specifics, Klinsmann said Donovan “maybe is not the one now anymore to go one against one all the time or going into the box or finishing off.” But the coach praised “his outstanding passing game, his experience, which is a big factor always.”
“He changed his game over the last few years, which is normal at that stage of his career,” Klinsmann said.
Donovan has five World Cup goals, including a stoppage-time score against Algeria four years ago that advanced the Americans to the second round.
“We all have an incredible amount of respect and appreciation and admiration for everything that Landon has done for this team and for soccer in this country,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “To see him walk out the door yesterday, to see six other guys walk out the door yesterday, is not easy.”
Klinsmann said Donovan took the decision Thursday “with an amazing composure.”
“Obviously, big disappointment. That is expected, and he said that, he doesn’t kind of understand it,” Klinsmann said. “He thinks he should have been in the 23.”
Donovan was scheduled to discuss the decision Saturday after training with the Galaxy.
“Just sad for all the guys who got cut and what comes with it,” U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. “You bring in 30 players who have a lot of quality and it makes difficult decisions for the coaches to make.”
Klinsmann said he hopes Donovan remains in the player pool in the future: The Americans have the CONCACAF Gold Cup next year and the Copa America in 2016, when qualifying for the next World Cup also starts. Donovan also could return for the World Cup if there is an injury to one of the players selected for the roster.
“How this new cycle will start after Brazil obviously depends a lot on the outcome in Brazil,” Klinsmann said, “but the vision is, absolutely, that Landon continues his national team career.”
A World Cup champion with West Germany and European champion with Germany, Klinsmann was hired in July 2011. Less than a week after the Americans were drawn in December into a difficult World Cup group with Ghana, Portugal and Germany, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced Klinsmann’s contract had been extended through 2018.
He maintained the new deal didn’t make him think more toward the future when making his picks.
“This is based on today. This is based on what hopefully goes well the next seven, eight weeks, so that had nothing to do with my contract or with the perspective that those young players have for the longer run,” he said.
His roster includes 18-year-old winger Julian Green, who made his national team debut last month and has just six minutes of first-team experience with Bayern Munich; 21-year-old central defender Anthony Brooks, who has three international appearances; and 20-year-old right back DeAndre Yedlin, whose only national team appearances were as a second-half substitute this year.
“Some have a learning curve ahead of them, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann said. “But they are ready for that learning curve, and they might surprise some people out there.”
Since returning to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence, the U.S. has alternated first-round elimination with advancement. The Americans open against Ghana, which knocked them out in the group stage in 2006 and the second round last time.
“As of today I’m very strongly convinced this is the right way to go for it,” Klinsmann said. “Now time will tell. If I’m not getting the job done at the end of the day, you know the outcome of things in the soccer world.”