We shouldn’t be talking about Jürgen Klinsmann this week. We should be talking about Landon Donovan. With the greatest American soccer player ever getting his final cap with the United States national team Friday night, the conversation should be squarely focused on everything Donovan has accomplished wearing the red, white, and blue.
He has more international goals than any player in U.S. history (57). He has more international assists than any player in U.S. history (58). He has more international points than any player in U.S. history (172). He has played more international minutes than any player in U.S. history (12,813). He has played in more World Cup matches than any player in U.S. history (12). He has scored more World Cup goals than any player in U.S. history (five). He is responsible for the greatest single moment ever etched in most American soccer fans’ memories.
So can anybody explain why, exactly, we are spending the final hours of Donovan’s unmatched United States playing career talking about what he hasn’t accomplished?
The USMNT is using Friday’s friendly against Ecuador in Connecticut as a send-off for its longtime superstar, with Donovan set to start, play about 30 minutes, and even captain the home side. There have been tribute videos, Twitter chats, and SportsCenter interviews to commemorate Donovan’s final match for his country. Oh yes, and there was a pre-match press conference Thursday where Klinsmann, the U.S. national team’s coach, was given the chance to weigh in on all that Donovan has achieved. This is what he said: “As a coach, you always want to see a player that drives for his 100 percent. I wished in a certain way, ah, he could have done a bit more here and a bit more there.”
Um, what? Jürgen Klinsmann isn’t raining on this week’s Landon Donovan parade, the one that his employer, U.S. soccer, is throwing. No, he’s dumping a Noah-sized flood of Biblical proportions on it.
Imagine if Phil Jackson’s press conference at Michael Jordan’s retirement was focused on: “You know, if Michael had kept the baseball itch from getting out of hand, he really could have done something special.” Or if the final evaluation of Babe Ruth’s time on the baseball diamond was: “Picture what he could have done if he didn’t strike out so often.”
It doesn’t matter how many other nice things Klinsmann has to say about Donovan now or over the years, and of course, there have been plenty. That quote was the completely wrong thing for the USA manager to say at the absolute worst time. No matter what you think of Donovan not having made an impact overseas at the club level, no matter what your true feelings are about LD taking a sabbatical during the World Cup qualifying cycle, no matter what sort of personal issue the two men might have because of everything that went down this summer, this week is about celebrating Donovan, not questioning him. Klinsmann and company should be deciding which of the United States’ many home stadiums to build a Donovan statue outside the front entrance of, not tossing out a less-than-subtle jab at whatever hole the coach perceives to exist on Donovan’s peerless (among his countrymen, at the very least) resume.
To be fair, though, Klinsmann is right in at least one respect. There is more Donovan could have done, if not for his club, at least for his country. Landon could have scored for the Americans in the 2014 World Cup. He could have tallied the regulation goal that would have helped the USA advance past Belgium in a knockout game (the one the USMNT ultimately lost 2-1 in extra time after 90 scoreless minutes). The United States’ all time leading scorer could have carried his nation deeper into the World Cup bracket, maybe even deeper than this country has ever gone before.
Yes, Donovan could have done ‘a bit more here’ or ‘a bit more there.’ If only Jurgen Klinsmann would have kept him on the team, that is. If only the USA manager would have taken the best soccer player in American history to Brazil for the most important soccer event on the planet. If only the stubborn Klinsmann would have looked past his differences with Donovan and realized that he needed the offensive playmaking skills Donovan provided ahead of so many lesser-skilled others who went to Brazil instead.
In other words, yes, Donovan could have done more. But the fact that he didn’t is no one’s fault besides Jürgen Klinsmann’s. That’s why Klinsmann should have kept his mouth shut this week so the rest of the soccer world can give Donovan the curtain call he richly deserves. Landon Donovan has done plenty. He’s done more than enough.