Klinsmann on Thursday triggered shockwaves within the American soccer community by cutting Donovan from his final 23-man squad for the tournament in Brazil. A three-time World Cup veteran, the 32-year-old is the U.S. national team's all-time leader with 57 goals and 58 assists.
Donovan fell out of Klinsmann's good graces when he took a nearly four-month sabbatical from soccer, missing three World Cup qualifiers early last year. But he returned to the national team at last summer's Gold Cup, earning most outstanding player honors at that tournament before scoring in the USA's qualification-clinching win over Mexico.
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Klinsmann on Friday justified the move while addressing the media at a news conference from the USA's camp in Palo Alto, California.
"You as a coach have to make a decision based on what you want to execute in Brazil, what you want to see, how you want to build those components into the entire group," Klinsmann said. "Then I felt the guys that we chose were a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas.
"It would do it justice if I mentioned these fields because maybe where he has a little bit of a weakness, another guy has more strength. And where the other guy has some weaknesses, Landon has his strengths. So it is a very tight race for those spots, and in this moment we feel like the other players — without naming any of those guys — are a tiny, little bit ahead of him, which is why we made that decision.
"He took it highly professional, with an amazing composure. Obviously big disappointment — that is expected. He said that he doesn't kind of understand it. He thinks he should have been in the 23, which is well taken. I want a player to speak up and say that as well. I tried to lay out a couple of reasons, and those are technical parts."
Klinsmann, however, is not ruling out the possiblity of Donovan making it to Brazil, emphasizing the veteran will be his first call if there is an injury to one of the USA's forwards.
"If something happens tomorrow, I can call him and he's back right away," Klinsmann said. "And he said he was sure that 24/7 he is at our disposal. If that call comes, he's ready to go."
Klinsmann dismissed the notion that Donovan saw his spot taken by 18-year-old newcomer Julian Green, and also said Green and fellow German-American John Brooks were not guaranteed World Cup spots in exchange for their international commitments.
While the inclusion of such prospects as Brooks, Green and DeAndre Yedlin (all of whom are younger than 22) might imply an emphasis on the future, with Klinsmann under contract through the 2018 World Cup, the coach said the roster "is based on today."
"This is based on what hopefully goes well in the next seven, eight weeks," Klinsmann said. "So it had nothing to do with my contract."
Klinsmann also addressed a controversial tweet from his son that seemed to mock Donovan's exclusion, which was quickly deleted Thursday.
"(My reaction) was hugely disappointed — I called him right away," Klinsmann said. "He was devastated yesterday. Obviously as a father you put him in line, and he owes (Donovan) a huge, huge apology. That was highly disrespectful, and he got his biggest social media lesson that he could imagine. But it was very disappointing."
While many have assumed missing out on the World Cup marks the end of Donovan's decorated national team career, Klinsmann expressed a desire to have the player involved as the 2018 World Cup cycle gets underway following the trip to Brazil.
"I have the strong hope that he continues," Klinsmann said. "That is our vision, absolutely, that Landon continues his national team career — no doubt about it."