STANFORD, Calif. – Landon Donovan was sensationally left off the United States World Cup roster on Thursday in a dramatic, sudden and unexpected move from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Despite Klinsmann repeatedly insisting that Donovan was not guaranteed a spot, it was still widely expected that the U.S. men's national team's all-time leading scorer would be named among the final squad of 23.
However, the bombshell announcement came on Thursday afternoon via Twitter with the revelation that the Los Angeles Galaxy forward would be omitted along with Terrence Boyd, Joe Corona, Maurice Edu, Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst.
Klinsmann could have left the final cut until the FIFA deadline of June 2 to pare down the roster from the 30 who have been training at Stanford University, but instead chose to announce his selection early.
"It is an exciting moment when you have narrowed the roster down as a coaching staff," Klinsmann said in a statement. "These 23 players you have chosen can now focus purely on Brazil. We can go into more specific things about technical approaches and about the opponents.
"For the players, it is very important to know that they are now part of it and they can relax and know they are going to Brazil. After 10 days [in camp], we thought the point had come to make that decision."
Donovan has been one of the faces of American soccer ever since he burst onto the international scene as a World Cup rookie in 2002, helping the U.S. reach the quarterfinals. His goal against Algeria in 2010 – coming in dramatic fashion in the final moment of the last group game – propelled the team into the knockout round and provided an electrifying and iconic moment.
He has scored 57 goals in 156 appearances for his country, but Klinsmann made it known that he was concerned about Donovan's commitment after the player took a controversial sabbatical at the start of the 2013 Major League Soccer season before subsequently regaining his appetite for the game.
Many casual soccer fans will be stunned to learn that Donovan has been omitted and in all honesty, it doesn't make much sense to seasoned experts, either.
While the 32-year-old does not have the same burst of speed and deep-burning hunger he possessed earlier in his career, he has, over time, become a more well-rounded and savvy player. His experience is another factor that cannot be overlooked in a squad that could be considered somewhat short on it. Seventeen of the 23 who will make the trip to Brazil have never played in a World Cup before, the exceptions being captain Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Michael Bradley and DaMarcus Beasley.
The eventual decision likely boiled down to questions in Klinsmann's mind, whether well founded or not, over whether Donovan's fitness and motivation levels were at the standard that the coach wanted. Also, the tactical structure of the team now seems to be more geared toward width, which may bode well for right winger Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson, who is now favored to start on the left of midfield.
Only Klinsmann knows the true reason right now – a question that will be posed when he gives a formal press conference on Friday.
What is for certain is that the coach has put his reputation on the line in no uncertain terms. With a strong campaign and progress from the Group of Death that includes Germany, Portugal and Ghana, he will be hailed a genius. But failure to advance, especially if the team struggles in the goal-scoring department, will allow critics to use the decision on Donovan as a batting stick.