Goodbye, Landon: Will USA Make It Out Of Group G?
World Cup 23-man list. No Landon Donovan.
Jurgen Klinsmann broke the Internet with that announcement. The famous United States men's national soccer team (USMNT) number 10 was done, kaput, finished. He’s 32 years old and Brazil was always going to be his last hurrah, but now he - Landon Donovan -isn't going to get the chance at even that.
Twitter’s trending topics read: USMNT, Julian Green, No Landon Donovan. The unprintable and unmentionable names Klinsmann is being called right now shows a side of U.S. Soccer never seen before. Let’s take a deep breath, however, and look at this news from an emotion-less and clear-eyed perspective.
What does Donovan mean to the USMNT today? The truth is, he doesn’t mean that much. He missed a fair number of qualifiers, took time off seemingly when he felt like it, and at 32, he’s not the irrepressible force he once used to be. Add in the fact that even Landon said himself that he was struggling with fitness and health issues, and it’s really not that hard to see why he’s been left off. In soccer’s biggest dance, you can’t afford to let emotional decisions rule your thought process, this isn’t about giving a player a final hurrah. Donovan isn’t the best player at his clubside, the L.A. Galaxy, and his contributions are not once they once used to be - this isn’t a decision that should be that surprising, people!
The good news from this is that it should show us all that the USA is finally a soccer country. The sheer emotions that have come with this announcement show that people care - this is the kind of reaction you get from full-fledged soccer nations like Argentina, Brazil, England, Spain and many others around the world. Conversely, it could mean that a whole bunch of ‘plastic’ fans are not happy that their hero who was left off (present form and future potential be damned). It could mean that if the USA does as expected and gets knocked around by the big boys in a stellar group, many fans will be turned off from the beautiful game. The latter would be a shame because there is tremendous potential with team USA.
USA has always been a country that loves winners, but when an American or American team hasn’t been expected to do anything, people tend to love it when the team gives its all, when the team tries and fights it’s hardest. I can promise this - this side will fight. The speed of the youth in the side, coupled with the savvy of vets like Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey will ensure that this side won’t go down without punching. Will they make it to the second round? Likely not, a point or two from this monster group will be an achievement but this shouldn’t be about Donovan, even with him, the team would still have had an uphill task in Brazil (a task made harder if they had to carry a slow and injured player).
Landon Donovan may be the greatest player this nation has ever produced, 156 games and 57 goals is nothing to sneeze at, Landon Donovan was a beast in his heyday, a man who had the chance to be America’s one genuine world class player. He’s an icon, but the faces of the present team are Dempsey, Bradley and Howard. Donovan’s day in the sun has set, and the USA will be better for it.
What This Means For USA's Chances
By our newfangled math, USA is power ranked at number 23 in the world with a nERD score of 2.05, on the basis of our newly released power rankings for soccer. nERD measures overall team efficiency, as an estimate of expected goal difference against an average International team.
To put another way, USA at their best would beat the most average International team by 2.05 goals. Not necessarily an average World Cup team, but your average run-of-the-mill squad; perhaps a Canada or a Kazakhstan. Pretty neat, right? (Until you realize that Brazil's nERD is 3.44. Oh.)
So what does this mean post-Donovan? The nERD may not change much, but it does affect their odds of making out of the group. We're currently projecting just a 32.41% chance of making it to the knockout stage, a function of a tough group but also of a group with strong defense to counter USA's suddenly weaker attack.
To win it all? Less than one percent. Time to watch some baseball, I guess.