That ghost has a permanent place on Jurgen Klinsmann's shoulder, but it is haunting two players in particular in Brad Davis and Julian Green. Neither player asked for the distinction of being known as "the players most likely to have cost Donovan his place on the World Cup team," but that is who Davis and Green are in the eyes of many a U.S. fan who hasn't come to grips with Donovan's absence.
You could add Chris Wondolowski to that club, but the reality is Wondolowski wasn't nearly the surprise roster inclusion that Davis and Green were. Even though Klinsmann had said Donovan would likely play forward if he made the team, and even though Wondolowski was probably the final forward selected, he doesn't carry the same stigma that Davis and Green do.
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Neither player has shown any sort of discomfort with those labels. Both have faced countless questions about making the team, including several asking directly and indirectly if they were surprisd to make it when Donovan did not. It probably isn't easy to have a steady stream of questions that sound a lot like, "You don't really think you're better than Landon Donovan, do you?" But both have faced those inquiries and handled them with class.
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It has to be a strange feeling though. For example, Green was lauded as a potential future savior when he chose the USA over Germany and made his national team debut against Mexico in April. U.S. fans couldn't get enough of him, contemplating the bright future he could be a part of in events like the 2016 Olympics and 2018 World Cup.
The narrative changed quickly for Green the moment he was on the World Cup team and Donovan wasn't. Suddenly he went from Bayern Munich starlet to "fourth-division German league project." The mood went from "I can't wait to see him play" to "This kid has no business on the team."
Davis has faced his own level of skepticism about his inclusion. The 32-year-old winger and longtime MLS standout has never been a national team star, though he did score the winning penalty in the 2005 Gold Cup final. He made the team with a combination of intense workrate and impeccable left-sided service and set-piece delivery. In him, Klinsmann saw someone who could be a difference-maker off the bench. Davis earned a serious look after some quality showings late in 2013, most notably in the World Cup qualifier in Panama that saw the U.S. eliiminate Panama from World Cup qualifying.
That didn't stop Davis from being placed on the list of unworthy selections who skeptics felt had no business being on the team over Donovan.
The only thing either player can do to successfully swat away Donovan's ghost, at least away from their names, is to play well, and take advantage of any and all opportunities Klinsmann gives them. Davis has started to do that, playing very well off the bench against Azerbaijan, having a hand in both goals in the 2-0 win. He provided pinpoint services and effective set pieces, showing off exactly the kind of things Klinsmann wants to see from him.
Green remains more of a mystery, having been left out of the Azerbaijan match. If expectations for him weren't already sky high, they have now been ratcheted up to "walk on water" levels. Not that such miracles are expected, but the sense you get is if Green is anything less than a jaw-dropping impact player at the World Cup then Klinsmann will have failed in putting his World Cup team together.
Ultimately, Klinsmann is the one who should face the bulk of the scrutiny and skepticism over the team's roster selections, but it is Davis and Green who have the task of proving their worth and Klinsmann's competence. Sunday's friendly against Turkey should offer each a great opportunity to start winning over the critics, and a chance to show U.S. fans that they should be rooting for them instead of continuing to lament Donovan's absence.