Landon Donovan, Julian Green and the Cyclical Nature of Sports Stars

NOTE:  This started out as a look at Berti Vogts moving into the line of fire as his role of World Cup 2014 Sacrificial Lamb requires, but I found these articles on his relationship with Donovan and it led to this post instead.    That one is still coming

     The new look of USMNT, Jan 2014

Now that the Donovan bombshell has dropped and the media is spiraling into group-think drawn meltdown, realizing USSF is not taking Brazil as anything more than the best World Cup 2018 Prep-Camp, enter Berti Vogts into the consciousness of US Soccer fans.

There is much hand-wringing about the timing of the list’s release. Why not wait until at least after the Azerbaijan match?

I think the timing was planned very specifically because they wanted the initial bombshell to hit and the fact Vogts was Donovan’s coach at  Bayer Leverkusen, during LD’s first European misadventure, to percolate into a firestorm of misdirected rage. What’s a sacrificial lamb if not to be slaughtered to the mob of mass hysteria?

In researching  their relationship,  I found some intriguing quotes from the time and some rather interesting parallels.

An 18 year old Donovan on the Vogts appointment and what it meant for his career:

SoccerTimes: Have your chances for first team play changed under new Coach Berti Vogts?

Donovan: “Yes, I’m optimistic. Berti is a great coach and he has been giving a chance to some of the younger players. We’ve had three reserve players including two 19-year-olds dress with the first team in the past few weeks. If I did not get that red-card suspension I think I might have played or at least been a sub.”

Soccer Times, Dec. 13, 2000

Donovan was banned 6 matches when playing with their reserves for talking back to the Ref.   He claimed that he said one thing and the ref heard something else.  A review panel adjudicated him a six match ban.

“I’ve heard [Vogts] says he likes me a lot, wants to integrate me into his plans and whatnot, but I haven’t played, so I mean … I’d rather him hate me and I played every game.”  

Soccer America via, Feb. 7, 2001.

 Bayer Leverkusen was not playing him and wanted him, at 18 years old, to play in the German 4th division… um stop when this sounds somewhat familiar.  18 year-old American in Germany, playing in the 4th Division, trying to get into the USMNT first team, kid has a lot of hype but not a lot of real experience.

.. no not familiar at all...

That same 18 year old, Donovan announced, “I think I should be on every roster,” he sa[id], quickly adding a “no, just kidding[,]” when asked if, although he was not regularly playing for his club, should he get a national team call-up to the U.S. v. Mexico WCQ in C-Bus (the first dos a cero).  He had played in a couple of friendlies and with the U-20s but this was to be his big breakthrough.  

USMNT coach, at the time, and current coach at the Galaxy, Bruce Arena gave him playing time at the senior national team without having been playing regularly with his club side and not at all with their first team. In the process he took the place of more established and successful players.  Still Not Sounding Familiar Correct? 

 The reality is 2014 is a watershed generational shift within the USMNT.  USSF has known it was necessary for a while but I believe they expected it to be a softer, longer transition that allowed for more graceful exits and  less brutally blunt.

 I think that was the plan until Dec. 6, 2013..  the Draw that Changed It All.

With US Soccer reeling from the disastrous draw, they decided to accelerate the transition.  If we cannot advance out of the group, then the next best thing is to allow it to be a training ground for the future of the program. Longterm health of the program is more vital than any player’s ego.

In all the media/fan melting down over Donovan’s exclusion, what has almost been completely ignored is that the young players included this time are getting the necessary experience to protect the future of the game in America.  Without it, the core of the future team would be World Cup virgins while in their prime in 2018.

Looking at the 23 Named Roster, their age in 2018 and their current WC experience:

  • Dempsey, Wondo – 35 [Dempsey has extensive WC exp]
  • Guzan – 34 [extensive WC experience, but zero game time experience]
  • Cameron – 33 [no WC exp]
  • Zusi – 32 [no WC exp]
  • Bradley, Besler, Bedoya, Johnson – 31 [only Bradley has WC experience]
  • Gonzalez – 30 [no WC exp]
  • Altidore – 29 [2010 WC exp]
  • Diskerud, Johannsson, Chandler – 28 [no WC exp]
  • Brooks, Yedlin – 25 [No WC exp]
  • Green – 23 [No WC exp]

Those are the players with a shot of heading to another Cup, now for the remainder of the squad.  All these players bring unique skill sets the younger kids can learn lessons, Klinnsman and clearly, USSF believe are important.  It is not necessarily technical skills but work ethics, commitment, dedication, perseverance, focus, basically all of the things Klinnsman talks about all the time. All those things that kept Donovan off the list.

Skipping the sense of entitlement and absurd notion that ANY player, “deserves” to be on the roster.  THIS IS NOT A TESTIMONIAL MATCH, THIS IS THE WORLD CUP. ONLY THOSE WHO EARN IT, DAY IN – DAY OUT, DESERVE IT.

I have never met Klinnsman for more than a 2 second, “hello, good luck” greeting. Even I know, he hates nothing more than spoiled, entitled, “stars” who half-ass their efforts.

This Cup is a huge opportunity for the young ones to learn and absorb the experience.  It means that they will not be as wide-eyed and awed the next time.

Additionally, it means that those guys who worked their asses off to prove how much they wanted to go are rewarded.  They get the professional chance of a lifetime. What he is doing is taking a team of kids and Rudys instead of a prima donna or two. There is an enormous amount for young players to learn from those Rudy players about never giving up, never giving in and always giving your all.

Thomas Rogan told his American Samoan team in Next Goal Wins, that he would, “cut off [his] own penis just to play in a Word Cup Qualifier.” Something tells me Beckerman, Davis, and Wondo agree.

As hard as it is to accept, it is transition time for US Soccer.   New blood, new talents, new challenges and new heights of success to reach (just not this year, presumably). Of course, they might shock us all.

For those mourning Donovan’s perfectly timely national team demise, “for,” Julian Green, ask yourselves this, “If Arena hadn’t moved the team on to Donovan from those more qualified, experienced, and, “deserving,” team members, where would this program be today?   It is Green’s time, Yedlin’s time.. it is time to move on…

My mantra in life comes from a tea bag, “THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO COPE WITH CHANGE, IS TO HELP CREATE IT.”  That is exactly what USSF is doing, coping with the inevitable change by forcing its creation.  It is the best and most realistic reaction to the worst WC draw in US World Cup history (that is not even hyperbole)

My advice, get on board with this changing of the guard, because it is happening with or without you…

That said, Congrats on Finally breaking the MLS Scoring Record Landon


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