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May 23, 2014

The inside story of Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to cut Landon Donovan

No doubt, many U.S. fans woke up this morning hoping that Landon Donovan's failure to make the final 23 for the World Cup roster was a bad dream. It wasn't.

In truth, the signs have always been there. An honest Donovan admitted to us in Los Angeles, for the first episode of "Inside: U.S. Soccer's March to Brazil," that "I can't train 12 straight days in a row and have 12 great days in a row. Physically it is not possible. My body breaks down, I'm getting older."

On the same day, Jurgen Klinsmann declared, "The media thinks [Landon] is untouchable ... the media thinks he should be in Brazil based on what he did ... but that is not how it works. I have to choose the 23 best players based on what I see today."

- McIntyre: Klinsmann better know what he's doing

- Carlisle: Donovan's omission is a stunner

- Report: Klinsmann says others 'step ahead' of Donovan

- Darke: Brave move by Klinsmann

In football, there is the emotional and the rational. The U.S. team is headed to Brazil aware they must face a grueling trifecta of challenges -- not only the opposition, but an unforgiving trek around the continent-sized nation, and microwave-oven heat. Italian coach Cesare Prandelli learned at the end of the Confederations Cup last year that to win the World Cup he needed not just need his nation's "23 best footballers, but the 23 best athletes." After watching Donovan struggle in the second half against Mexico in Phoenix, and train this week in the Californian heat, Klinsmann has determined that in his current shape, his star is not one of the United States best athletes.

Yet it is impossible to ignore the emotional. Donovan is lauded by many as the greatest American ever to kick a World Cup football. His 156 caps, and five World Cup goals stand as testament. He gave the nation an Algeria goal that still stands as U.S. soccer's greatest Sports Center moment. He is the rare footballer who American mothers name their children after. The timing of his cut has deprived an American legend of the opportunity to make a dignified departure from the team.

Our Inside crew shot Klinsmann's address to his final 23 when they assembled together as a unit for the first time in the locker room post-cuts. "It is a bitter pill to swallow," he admitted. "Not easy even on the coach. you don't even want to know how they feel right now.... it hurts them, it hurts me too..."

Klinsmann then refocused on the task at hand. "I am telling you I am so excited to have 23 guys going to Brazil and rock the boat and give everything you have and maybe make things happen that nobody is expecting from us ... and you are those guys."

Landon Donovan is not one of those guys. And for a dignified exit, you need look no further than his final words in the first episode: "At the end of it all, I love being a part of this team. This team and this game has given so much to me," he said, "and I come at it now from a place of wanting to help. If I get to play I will be ecstatic ... if I don't for whatever reason I will be the number one cheerleader."

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