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Soccer Star Landon Donovan Didn't Make The World Cup Cut


The United States is not soccer-mad but it does have some pretty dedicated fans. And they are up in arms over news about the guy behind the most famous goal in U.S. soccer history.


SIEGEL: Landon Donovan's last-minute goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup saved the U.S. and made him a hero. But for this World Cup he'll be just another fan. Yesterday U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced that Donovan was not on the 23-man roster that will be heading to Brazil in a couple of weeks. And joining us now is sports writer Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.


SIEGEL: Donovan is arguably the most recognizable name in U.S. soccer. he's also 32 years old. Is that why he didn't make the cut?

FATSIS: Not entirely. He's certainly been hampered by some injuries over the last year. He is older. He's admitted that he can't train at high level and play at a high level day in and day out. Klinsmann said in a news conference today that other players were a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas. But I think there's more to this.

Donovan has scored 57 goals for the United States, more than any other man. He has been the face of U.S. soccer for the last ten years or more. Klinsmann has taken over this program and he's wanted to change it. This is an opportunity for him to move forward without that figurehead.

SIEGEL: Well, does his decision make sense to you?

FATSIS: You know, it really doesn't. Donovan still can play. Maybe not 90 minutes every game in the heat, in the Brazilian jungle. But off the bench he would've been an asset for his experience and his savvy and his skills. I think this goes back in Klinsmann's mind to over a year ago when Donovan would take a break from soccer. He said he was physically and mentally exhausted. He wound up taking four months off.

Those four months coincided with the beginning of the final round of qualifying for the United States . Klinsmann has a very European approach to the game, full commitment all the time. This is your career. Donovan is a much more introspective guy who felt he needed to take a step back in order to reenergize and come back stronger. I don't think that Jurgen Klinsmann ever got over the fact that Landon Donovan took this break.

SIEGEL: Well, U.S. fans took to social media to vent their anger when the announcement came down. Now that it's a day later, have they gotten over it? Have people calmed down and accepted the decision?

FATSIS: I don't think they have just yet. I think they will but I think this is going to alienate a lot of fans who love this team, love rooting for the United States and love Landon Donovan. He has been a polarizing figure during his career. Early on he was viewed as sort of weak. He had a nickname Landycakes. People looked down on his decision to not try to make it in European soccer but stay here in the United States with major league soccer. But since that goal against Algeria, all is forgiven. Fans will get over it but I think it's going to take a while.

SIEGEL: Well, apart from focusing on this star player who won't be on the team, what about the 23 guys who are on the U.S. team? Do they look hopeful for Brazil?

FATSIS: Absolutely. The U.S. has more depth than it's ever had. We've got two terrific players in Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley who returned from top European teams in the last year to play in the United States. Klinsmann also has included on this team three very young players, two of them German American with very little experience. How much they'll play in Brazil is up in the air.

But the core of the United States national team still very good. But the United States is in an incredibly difficult group, a group of death with Ghana, Portugal and Germany. It's never going to guarantee that they're going to advance the way they did in 2010. If they don't without Landon Donovan, Jurgen Klinsmann's going to have some questions to answer.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thanks, Stefan. Have a great weekend.

FATSIS: You too, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis talks with us most Fridays about sports and the business of sports. You can hear him on the slate podcast Hang Up and Listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.