With Donovan gone, the USMNT moves on
STANFORD, Calif. -- Our camera team accidentally caught Landon Donovan's last kick of a football on this U.S. men's national team. It was an innocuous back flick with his right foot as he left the training field at Stanford Stadium last Thursday afternoon. As the ball rolled back onto the field, neither cameraman nor player were aware the 30 players on the preliminary World Cup squad were minutes away from being trimmed to 23.
Donovan's flick was subtle yet its repercussions have been seismic. The Californian's contribution to American soccer has been immense: 156 caps, 57 goals, 58 assists and one strike against Algeria which gave the U.S. team its most-played on "SportsCenter" moment.
Jurgen Klinsmann has determined there is the Donovan that exists in the popular imagination, and the Donovan he has seen in training. The U.S. coach is well aware the world will debate his judgment. "Every coach would probably have a different roster," he said. "Most of the coaches would probably have Landon right in the 23."
Yet while the media strain to explore the potential causes and repercussions, inside the U.S. camp, the remaining 23 players quickly locked together to refocus or, in Klinsmann's parlance, to "zoom in."
"When I found out about Landon I was surprised," Clint Dempsey admitted, "but that is what happens in this business, there have to be big decisions that are made."
Tim Howard said, "Within the group, the ball got rolling again it was on the pitch, it was business as usual. It sounds harsh, but you don't have the opportunity to wallow in who is here and who is not."
Few things focus the mind like the prospect of Ghana, Portugal and Germany. Now that the threat of roster cuts have been removed, the competition to move from 30 to 23 has been replaced by a new form of contest commanded by the competitive nature that burns inside any professional athlete.
"Everyone wants to start," Kyle Beckerman said with a smile. "It used to be about the 23; now its about 11."
Michael Bradley summed up the ruling mindset in camp. After talking about Donovan's career with admiration, the midfielder added, "the reality is, when we look back at this stretch of two or three years, Landon has been in and out [of the team] a little bit."
"It is important [now] the focus has to be on the group of guys who are going to go to the World Cup ... it all feels real to have the 23 guys that we know are going to Brazil. We know who is going to be there. There are no more surprises, no more unknowns."
Watch "Inside: U.S. Soccer's March to Brazil" on May 29 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).