Friday, May 23, 2014

Letting Landon Go

I was shocked when I received the ESPN alert on my phone yesterday that read as follows:

Landon Donovan left off USA’s final 23-man World Cup roster; Donovan is USA’s all-time leading scorer. 

I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I read it right.

The uproar on Twitter was swift and fierce as the American soccer world went into a frenzy at the exclusion of arguably the best player in the history of U.S. soccer. On top of the confusion over this controversial decision, there was a palpable anger -- mostly directed at Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who made the choice to leave Landon stateside when the Americans compete for the World Cup next month in Brazil.

The obvious question to ask is Why? Why would Klinsmann leave Donovan, who is 32, off the roster? Sure, he might have lost a step or two and isn’t the same player he was four years ago, but look at his resume:

  • He has scored 57 international goals in 156 matches played for the national team, which is the most all-time. 
  • In his three World Cup appearances (2002, 2006 and 2010), he has scored a total of five goals -- which is more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have combined

But a lot has happened in the four years since that moment.

Klinsmann, who took the reigns of the U.S. national squad in 2011, and Donovan have reportedly had a strained relationship for quite some time. And Donovan’s choice to take a sabbatical right in the middle of World Cup qualifying play in 2013 didn’t help his case.

The team came together and got key results despite his absence, and there are rumblings that some on the team had problems with the superstar. On the field, his recent struggles in Major League Soccer play left questions about his play.

What’s true and what’s not is unclear, and the exact reasons why Klinsmann left Donovan off the roster might never be known. In what must have been an extremely difficult decision to make, the coach decided that his team was better off without him.

Sometimes we have to make similar decisions in our own lives. Despite what people may have done in the past for us, sometimes circumstances change and once dependable people become undependable. Instead of pushing us forward, they hold us back. Instead of picking us up, they drag us down.

Ideally, you hope to have people in your life that you can stick with until the very end. With people as talented as Donovan, you hope to have them play until they decide to hang up their cleats! But the past is just that: the past. And Klinsmann had to think about what was happening now and about the future of the team.

There are some points where you have to say thanks and move on. 

Will the choice to leave Donovan at home prove to be a mistake? It might. We’ll find out soon enough. Klinsmann, like all of us do at some point, had to make hard choices about the people he wanted to go into battle with. He made his.

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