Landon Donovan thought he had earned a prominent role on the U.S. World Cup team right up until the moment he was cut from the roster by coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Donovan was still stunned and confused by Klinsmann’s decision when he went back to work with the LA Galaxy on Saturday.
“I’m disappointed. I’m sad,” Donovan said Saturday after the Galaxy’s practice. “I’m human, and I wanted to go. I really wanted to go. I’m at peace with it. I respect the decision. I just feel in my heart that I deserve to be there, and that’s the pill that’s hardest to swallow.”
The 32-year-old attacker was denied the chance to play in his fourth World Cup after Klinsmann chose U.S. team newcomer Aron Johannsson and 31-year-old Chris Wondolowski over the most accomplished international player in American history.
The decision surprised Donovan, who believed a strong performance in training camp had secured his spot on the 23-man roster.
But Donovan declined to speculate on additional possible factors in the decision: his recent soccer sabbatical, the coach’s decision to evaluate a versatile player solely as a forward, or the impact of the Americans’ difficult group draw on their long-term planning.
“I think if I’m being judged solely on what happens in camp, then I absolutely deserved to be going to Brazil,” Donovan said. “I firmly believe that not only should I be going, but I feel like I really deserved it, and not from anything that I did in the past, but from what I’ve done in the last week and a half.”
Donovan gave little insight into whatever reasons Klinsmann shared with him at the Bay Area training camp. Klinsmann provided only murky details about his decision Friday, saying other players were “a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas.”
“I don’t agree with that assessment,” Donovan said. “I think I was at least as good as everybody else in camp. ... I think I was one of the better players, so that’s why it stings a little. If I had gone in and didn’t feel like I deserved it, I could live with that. But that’s not the case here.”
Donovan had nothing to say about any underlying implications of the mocking tweet by Jonathan Klinsmann, the coach’s teenage son, moments after the announcement.
“I don’t really know his son well, so I’m not really sure where that came from,” Donovan said.
Donovan also doesn’t think his four-month sabbatical from soccer in 2013 after the Galaxy’s second straight MLS Cup title should have worked against him.
“I actually think I’ve been a much better player since I came back,” he said.
Donovan is the career U.S. leader with 57 international goals, and is second with 156 appearances. He has scored five World Cup goals, including a stoppage-time goal against Algeria to send the Americans to the second round four years ago.
Instead of jetting off to Brazil, the five-time MLS Cup champion will resume his pursuit of the top U.S. league’s career goal-scoring record in Sunday’s home game against Philadelphia. Donovan tied Jeff Cunningham’s mark with his 134th goal late last season, but hasn’t scored in seven matches with the Galaxy this year.
“I’m excited to be back here,” Donovan said. “I certainly didn’t want to be back here under these circumstances or this soon, but I love these guys. These are my teammates, and this is my home. I will not let this affect me going forward.”
Donovan said he would gladly return to the U.S. team from the standby list if an injury created a spot on the roster, and he wouldn’t rule out playing for the U.S. team in the future. He urged fans to support Klinsmann’s current squad because “I don’t want there to be a negative tint to any of this.”
“I’ve always loved representing this country, so I can’t imagine that if I’m given another opportunity that I would say no,” Donovan added. “But at this point, I’m just trying to deal with the disappointment.”