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U.S. World Cup players circle around Juergen Klinsmann's decision

SoccerSportsFIFA World CupMunich (Germany)Clarence GoodsonLandon DonovanJoe Corona

The question made Jermaine Jones laugh.

A day after Coach Juergen Klinsmann cut Landon Donovan, the most accomplished player in U.S. soccer history, from his World Cup roster, Jones was asked whether he liked the team that was left.

"I have to like it," he said. "The coach is the guy who makes the decision. So yes, I'm OK with it."

And if anyone wasn't OK with it, they weren't saying so Friday.

"Once you make the selection, then everybody's in," captain Clint Dempsey said. "We're all in it together. The 23 that are here, we have to come together as a team and be excited and try to do something special because you don't get many opportunities to play in a World Cup."

Cut along with Donovan, U.S. Soccer's all-time leader in goals and assists, were Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst, two of the team's three most experienced defenders, along with forward Terrence Boyd, defender Brad Evans and midfielders Joe Corona and Maurice Edu. Left behind was a 23-man roster that included seven players who are 24 or younger, 13 with 20 or fewer international caps and just six players who have been on previous World Cup teams.

A couple of days earlier, goalkeeper Tim Howard had said when Donovan was on the field he was "one of our top one or two players." On Friday, Howard struggled to explain why Donovan was no longer there.

"I've never made a player personnel decision. My opinion doesn't matter," he said. "You have to move on.

"Since Juergen was hired we have trusted in his decision-making, his opinion of what is best for the team. That doesn't change. He obviously has a vision for the team that he thinks is a winning one and so we believe in that."

It's a vision that includes 20-year-old defender DeAndre Yedlin, who has been outstanding at right back for the Seattle Sounders but has less than 35 minutes of international experience for the U.S. national team, and German-American teenager Julian Green, who plays for Bayern Munich's junior squad and has just one cap with the national team.

Both have enormous talent, with veteran teammates calling Green a potential game-changing player. But he's not that yet. And his inclusion on the roster was one reason there was no room left for Donovan, who has played more games (12) and scored more goals (5) in the World Cup than any other American.

That left Jones, at 32 the oldest field player on the team, speculating that Klinsmann built his roster not only for Brazil but with the 2018 World Cup in mind.

The coach, who in December signed a contract extension that will take him through the 2018 tournament, denied that.

"I have to do what I believe is the right thing as of today," Klinsmann said. "Time will tell over the next seven weeks if it was the right move. As of today, I'm very strongly convinced this the right way to go, this is the right decision that we made."

Klinsmann went on to argue that his team was not young and he's right. With an average age of 27.2 years, it is the oldest U.S. World Cup team since 1998. But its players have played far fewer matches on the international level than any recent U.S. team.

Midfielder Michael Bradley, who made his World Cup debut four years ago and has grown into a respected leader, downplayed the importance of that experience.

"I can speak for my own personal experience in that in 2010 in South Africa it wasn't like you're running around the field thinking to yourself, "'Oh, I've never played in a World Cup. This is all new to me,'" he said. "I also look at it from the other standpoint. To kind of use their enthusiasm and excitement and push the group on in that way, I think that helps.

"In any team you want to have a balance and I think we have that."

Besides, Bradley said, the challenge now is to forget about who didn't make the team and worry about who did.

"It's important now as we move forward to talk about the team, to talk about the World Cup and to make sure we are focused on what's coming," he said. "Everybody has to understand that the World Cup comes once every four years. And you don't want to spend it worrying about decisions that now have been made.

"The game moves on. And we have to be ready to do that as well."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SoccerSportsFIFA World CupMunich (Germany)Clarence GoodsonLandon DonovanJoe Corona
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