Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Landon Donovan World Cup snub sparks outrage, but stats aren't everything

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Sat May 24, 2014
In not just a personal highlight, but one of the greatest moments in American soccer, Landon Donovan, foreground left, celebrates with teammate Edson Buddle after scoring an injury-time goal against Algeria, propelling the United States into the knockout round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In not just a personal highlight, but one of the greatest moments in American soccer, Landon Donovan, foreground left, celebrates with teammate Edson Buddle after scoring an injury-time goal against Algeria, propelling the United States into the knockout round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
  • Landon Donovan has 57 goals and 58 assists in international career, both U.S. records
  • Coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he left Donovan off roster because other players are better
  • For all the highlights Donovan has amassed, performances of late have been lacking
  • If any player on roster is injured before World Cup, Donovan could be back, coach says

(CNN) -- Fifty-seven.

That's the number of goals Landon Donovan has scored for the U.S. national soccer team. It's 19 more than the total goals racked up by the No. 2 all-time scorer, World Cup captain Clint Dempsey.

It's also one fewer than Donovan's career assist tally, 58, which is 36 more setups than Hall of Fame midfielder Cobi Jones had in his lengthy career.

The only major benchmarks where Donovan isn't tops are shutouts, a statistic designated for goalkeepers and defenders, and caps, or game appearances, a stat in which Jones leads Donovan 164-156.

It's simple math, which is why, to fans casual and ardent, coach Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to leave the orchestrator of 115 goals off the 23-player World Cup roster doesn't add up.

Klinsmann explains why he cut Donovan
Donovan descartado del Mundial
Patrick Vieira tackles Senegal education
Patrick Vieira: How to win a World Cup

The sports world expressed outrage at Thursday's announcement -- and not your typical ho-hum soccer outrage (they flop! it's too low-scoring!), but real, palpable baseball- or football-esque outrage.

Americans, many of them thoughtfully, questioned a personnel decision, like they might question the Philadelphia Eagles not re-signing Mike Vick.

But this is soccer, and American soccer at that. So if Klinsmann is honest in saying that his goal is to raise soccer's profile in the United States, snubbing Donovan seems to have done the trick.

Now come the questions, the doubts, the Monday-morning goalkeepers. While some speculated whether Donovan's age (32) or perceived lack of heart -- he said in 2012 he wasn't sure if he wanted to go to Brazil and last year went on sabbatical during an arduous World Cup qualifying campaign -- others simply denounced the decision.

Bruce Arena, who coaches Donovan for Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy and also skippered the 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads, told the San Jose Mercury-News, "If there are 23 better players than Landon, then we have a chance to win the World Cup."

Meanwhile, soccer guru and Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl flatly stated, "Cutting Landon Donovan will prove to be a mistake."

Not everyone was so diplomatic, as some folks resorted to calling the move shortsighted or the machination of a madman. Of course, there were a few anti-German epithets hurled at Klinsmann on Twitter as well (never mind that he's a 1996 FIFA World Player of the Year who coached an unheralded German squad to a third-place 2006 World Cup finish).

More angry barbs were pointed squarely at the youngsters named to the squad -- in particular, Julian Green, 18, DeAndre Yedlin, 20, and John Brooks, 21, whose combined caps total a whopping six. Fans also decried the selection of Brad Davis, a 32-year-old MLS player who, while wicked with set pieces, at just 14 caps doesn't own a resume nearly as shimmering as Donovan's.

Klinsmann defended his squad -- and Green, Yedlin and Brooks -- in a Friday press conference, saying, "They might surprise some people."

As for Donovan, Klinsmann said other players were "a tiny little bit ahead of him," and though he didn't want to go into details, he alluded to Donovan not having the speed and ankle-breaking one-on-one skills he once possessed. Donovan recently acknowledged himself that he struggles to find the motivation to train at 100%. Still, Klinsmann said at the press conference, Donovan's a "great passer" with lots of experience.

Bodo Illgner remembers 1990 World Cup triumph
Bosnia's long journey to the World Cup
Chaos during Brazil transit strike
Jungle venue challenging for World Cup

Donovan accepted the decision maturely, saying he was disappointed.

"Regardless, I will be cheering on my friends and teammates this summer, and I remain committed to helping grow soccer in the U.S. in the years to come," he wrote on Facebook. He has promised to field questions about his omission from the team Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, where his Galaxy play.

If he never took the field again for the United States, Donovan will have left an indelible mark on the team and its history.

Forget all the goals, assists or the hat tricks against Scotland, Ecuador and Cuba (he actually hung four on Cuba). There are reasons Donovan has earned a sort of cult fame among U.S. soccer's fan base, and notoriety among America's casual fans.

He's one of the primary reasons fans of archrival Mexico shudder when they hear the chant "dos a cero" (two to zero). The most glorious dos a cero for American fans came when Donovan buried the second goal in the 2002 World Cup round of 16. He scored four goals to lead the men's national team to a 2007 Gold Cup trophy and netted the winner against Honduras to earn the United States a ticket to the 2010 World Cup. He donned sunglasses that someone threw at him during a quarterfinal match in the 2013 Gold Cup quarterfinal, of which he was the inarguable star, and he's the reason Mexican fans chanted "Osama! Osama!" after he urinated, yup, on the consecrated pitch of Guadalajara's Jalisco Stadium in 2003.

And then there was the 2010 World Cup game against Algeria.

With only injury time left, the score 0-0 and the United States' hopes of advancing looking dim if not dead, the U.S. team launched a lightning counterstrike. Goalkeeper Tim Howard hit Donovan in stride. Donovan pushed the ball out to striker Jozy Altidore on the wing, who drove into Algeria's penalty area and attempted to set up Clint Dempsey. Dempsey's shot caromed off Algeria's goalkeeper into the path of Donovan, who buried it for a 1-0 win.

From Boston to Barstow, America's soccer faithful went nuts. How nuts? This nuts.

That's history, however. Donovan would be the first to say he's not the No. 10 of old. He has yet to score in seven games for his club this year, and his performances for the national team have been such that Klinsmann pulled him out of a World Cup qualifier against Jamaica last year and benched him during an April friendly against Mexico.

But for all the talk about Donovan's future and questions over whether the curtains have closed on a distinguished international career, Klinsmann told the Donovan-minded reporters at Friday's press conference that much could happen between now and June 16, when the USA takes on Ghana.

Should, heaven forbid, any of Team America's eight midfielders or four forwards suffer an injury in the run-up to the Cup, the coach said, Donovan could be right back in the fold. And all this ranting and raving could be for nothing.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:23 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
After 20 years, more than 300 goals and a host of major honors, Thierry Henry has called time on his glittering football career.
updated 5:14 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
They do things differently at Sociedad Deportiva Eibar, up in the mist-cloaked valleys of the Basque country. And it is working.
updated 8:53 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
He might be struggling to score goals for Liverpool, but Mario Balotelli's cheeky tweet about the British monarch hit the spot during the World Cup.
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
How Real Madrid's new stadium will look
They splash the cash on the world's best players, now Real Madrid are giving the Bernabeu the same treatment with a bling makeover.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Football world mourns South African captain Senzo Meyiwa who was shot and killed during a botched robbery in a township near Johannesburg.
updated 9:48 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
A man as a Roman centurion and who earn his living by posing with tourists gestures in front of the Colosseum during a protest where some of his colleagues climbed on the monument on April 12, 2012 in Rome. The costumed centurions are asking for the right to work there after they were banned following a decision by local authorities.
From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises. But the eyes of the city's newest gladiator light up at thoughts of the Colosseum.
updated 12:22 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Once part of Germany's largest Jewish sports club, now he's the first ISIS suspect to stand trial in a country left shocked by his alleged radicalization.
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team -- Mario Balotelli has yet to shine on his English return.
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job? What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
After 10 years of golden glory, it's easy to see how Lionel Messi has taken his place among the football gods.
updated 6:34 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
A football fan wipes a tear after Inter Milan's Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti has greeted fans following the announcement of his retirement before the start of the Italian seria A football match Inter Milan vs Lazio, on May 10, 2014, in San Siro Stadium In Milan
When will the tears stop? A leading Italian football club is pursuing a new direction -- under the guidance of its new Indonesian owner.
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Norwegian 15-year-old Martin Odegaard is the youngest player ever to feature in a European Championships qualifying match.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Fri October 10, 2014
After revolutionizing cricket with its glitzy Twenty20 league, India has now thrown large sums of money at a new football venture.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Get ruthless. That is Rio Ferdinand's message to soccer's authorities in the fight to tackle the scourge of racism.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
A picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows 15-year-old Norwegian footballer Martin Oedegaard of club Stroemsgodset IF cheering during a match in Drammen, Norway. Oedegaard is set to become Norways youngest player ever in the national football team.
He's just 15 and the world is seemingly already at his feet. Norway's Martin Odegaard is being sought by Europe's top clubs.