Landon Donovan was left off the World Cup team and American soccer fans are up in arms. Everyone needs to calm the heck down and think about the big picture for a minute.
Yesterday US Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23-man roster that will represent America in this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil. That roster didn’t include one Landon Donovan, the nation’s best-known soccer player (and one that many casual observers mistakenly regard as the best player in our history, but that’s another argument for another day).
Twitter a’sploded. Facebook blowed up. Forums and message boards and listservs vibrated with rage. And in some of the more informed spots around the Internets, while there wasn’t fury, there was certainly plenty of confusion and second-guessing.
All of which is fair. If you follow Proper Football, by now you’re familiar with these discussions and may well have voiced an opinion or two yourself.
One of my friends, a very astute guy who knows the heck out of the game, both here and abroad, is firmly in the “Donovan should be on the team” camp, and as always his analysis (centering on why the heck are we taking so many fullbacks that will never get on the pitch and leaving out a guy who has proven he can score goals, which is not a bad question at all) is intelligent and thoughtful.
But he concluded with the assertion that if Klinsmann really thinks these are the 23 best players, and if we don’t advance out of the group stage, then Klinsmann should resign. And here my friend and I part ways.
See, that’s exactly what we don’t want. Klinsmann resisted taking the US job as long as he did because he wanted more control over developing the infrastructure of the US program. We’re at a big disadvantage vs the rest of the world for all kinds of reasons – cultural, for instance, and we have several other very popular sports siphoning off our top athletes, and the damned college system is a large, cement-footed albatross around the neck of our talent development aspirations – and JK is committed to charting and executing a stragic roadmap that’s about the long term.
Klinsmann isn’t mainly worried about winning in Brazil, although I’m certain he’s going to bring home the best result he can. Instead, he’s committed to transforming the US into a program that’s built to compete year in and year out forever. In his mind, I believe it would be a terrible betrayal of his responsibility to US Soccer to take a short-sighted approach aimed at getting us out of the group in Brazil at any cost, even if it means undermining the team’s longer-term health.
I have seen it suggested in the last 24 hours that this roster is aimed at prioritizing younger players, that it’s as much about 2018 as it is 2014. If Klinsmann is willing to take a hit in the short run – and I don’t say this because I think we can’t get out of the group this year, just speaking hypothetically – in order to make us more viable in the long run, I’m okay with that. I say this because I don’t think our goal should be, every four years, to get out of the group stage. I think our goal should be – and forgive me for being American here – to win the goddamned World Cup. If we can win it this year, we should go all-in. If we can’t, we should ask when we can win it, and what can we do right now to strengthen our pursuit of that goal.
The opposite of Jurgen Klinsmann is what we Denver Bronco fans endured with Mike Shanahan from the day John Elway retired to the day he was fired. Instead of doing what had to be done and ripping the program down to the studs so it could be rebuilt for the long haul Shanny kept slapping a new layer of wallpaper over the infrastructural decay year after year after year. See, we can Win Now®, he’d say, and the loyal fan base, longer on hope than critical thinking skills, would buy the mantra every fall. This is our year!
And he managed to be good enough to squeak the Doncs into the playoffs most years, but the ritual of 9-7, a wildcard berth and a first-round road loss isn’t the same as being a viable contender for the title.
As Bono once said, very good is the enemy of great.
I don’t know what Jurgen Klinsmann has in mind right now. Maybe this roster is as much about 2018 as it is 2014. Or maybe – and I can’t stress this enough – maybe a seasoned, successful manager is looking at the guys on the field and is taking the ones he thinks have the best chance of winning.
I don’t agree with all of his choices. Jesus H. Beckenbauer, nobody who saw last week’s Seattle Sounders trainwreck vs. New England can possibly understand how the hell DeAndre Yedlin is going to Brazil. DY might be ready in 2018, but right now I don’t trust him with anything more mission-critical than fetching the starters some water when they come off the pitch in Manaus.
But I remember Bob Bradley. I remember the dingbat selection of Robbie Motherfucking Findley. I remember Steve Sampson.
And under no circumstances do I want Klinsmann to resign.