Landon Donovan decided to join the chorus of critics criticizing Jurgen Klinsmann following the U.S. national team's World Cup exit, and came off sounding bitter.SALVADOR, Brazil -- Jurgen Klinsmann has come under his share of criticism following the U.S. national team’s exit from the 2014 World Cup after Tuesday’s loss to Belgium, but perhaps none of the criticism was quite as scathing as what came from none other than U.S. all-time leading scorer and World Cup snub Landon Donovan.
Speaking to media after LA Galaxy practice on Wednesday, Donovan unleashed a barrage of pointed comments about Klinsmann’s blame in the U.S. team’s exit from the World Cup, and the team’s struggles in Brazil.
“I think we’re all disappointed in what happened yesterday," Donovan told MLS Soccer on Wednesday. “I think the most disappointing is we didn’t seem like we gave it a real effort, from a tactical standpoint. I thought the guys did everything they could, they did everything that was asked of them, but I don’t think we were set up to succeed yesterday, and that was tough to watch.”
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Cut from the World Cup squad in late May in a surprise move that prevented him from playing in his fourth World Cup, Donovan has never been one to mince words, but his detailed assault on the U.S. World Cup team’s flaws, and Klinsmann’s role in the developing of those flaws, was still pretty shocking.
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“If you really look at the performances, there were some good performances by guys, some not-so-good performances by guys. As a whole, I think tactically, the team was not set up to succeed,” Donovan said. “They were set up in a way that was opposite from what they’ve been the past couple years, which is opening up, passing, attacking — trying to do that. And the team’s been successful that way. Why they decided to switch that in the World Cup, none of us will know.”
Donovan pointed specifically to how Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, the U.S. team's two best field players, were used at the World Cup.
"Michael was put in the wrong position," Donovan said. "He was put in a position that he's not used to playing. He does a better job, as you saw with Julian Green's goal, being in a deeper position. And having someone in a front of him, someone to help Clint also, makes him that much better because he's got more opportunity to pick out different passes, more attacking options ahead of him. I think that was clearly an error."
While Donovan seemed like an extreme long shot to ever play for the U.S. national team again, he all but slammed the door shut on any possibility of a return after his comments on Wednesday. Comments that came off sounding as much about bitterness stemming from his exclusion from the World Cup as they were about real criticism of Klinsmann’s tactics and decision making.
That isn’t to say there isn’t truth in some of the things Donovan said. Bradley absolutely did struggle in a more advanced role, and Dempsey did appear to be limited by his role as a lone forward in the team’s final three World Cup matches. Donovan also touched on the absence of Kyle Beckerman in the Belgium game, something Klinsmann has been rightfully criticized for.
What made Donovan’s comments sound like sour grapes are the circumstances surrounding his exclusion from the U.S. World Cup team. He expressed shock at being left off, and has admitted in recent weeks to being bitter about the snub, even going so far as to admitting part of him hoped the U.S. team would struggle without him there. Comments he said later were taken out of context.
There will be no taking his latest comments out of context. Whether driven by anger at seeing his friends, and his national team, miss a golden opportunity to make a deep World Cup run, or driven by continued resentment at being denied his chance at playing in a fourth World Cup, and playing on the sport's biggest stage one final time, Donovan decided to join the folks bashing Klinsmann rather than taking the high road and letting the court of public opinion cast a verdict on Klinsmann’s performance as coach.
It may have felt like something Donovan had to do, but in the end it smacked of petulance and bitterness and not the actions of someone who once said that he would be the U.S. team’s biggest fan even if he were left off the World Cup team.