A day after cutting Landon Donovan from his World Cup team, U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann on Friday defended the 23-man roster he will take to Brazil next month.
"I have to do what I believe is the right thing as of today," he said. "And time will tell now over the next seven weeks if it was the right move, if it was the right decisions on players, on tactical approaches against Ghana, Portugal and Germany and everything we’re going to do now, from today going forward.
"As of today I'm very strongly convinced this is the right way to go, this is the right decision that we made. And I believe in that."
Klinsmann's decision came far earlier than expected -- just 10 days into a three-week pre-World Cup training camp. Klinsmann called 30 players into the camp and had earlier said he planned to wait until June 2 -- the deadline for setting the final 23-man World Cup roster -- before settling on his final team. But that timeline changed after Thursday morning's practice session when Klinsmann began calling players aside and telling them they were being sent home.
"We decided to [accelerate] that decision a little bit because we coaches had the feeling, over the last few days, that we have a pretty clear picture on everyone involved in that process," he said. "And we sensed kind of that this is the right time now."
That left Donovan, U.S. Soccer's all-time leader in goals and assists, off the team while 18-year-old German American midfielder Julian Green, whose national team experience consists of 31 minutes off the bench in last month's friendly with Mexico, was included.
But Klinsmann said his decision never came down to a comparison between Donovan and Green.
"That’s absolutely not the discussion," he said. "We have with Julian a player that brings certain values to the team that we observed over almost two years in many of his games and training sessions at Bayern Munich. We see here a very special talent coming through. He’s getting more and more ready every day. He’s getting stronger. He has more confidence."
Green, who could have played internationally for Germany, didn't declare his intention to play for the U.S. until March, leading to speculation that Klinsmann promised him a World Cup roster spot if he chose the American team. Klinsmann denied that Friday.
"Nope. No," he said, shaking his head before the question had even been finished.
"He’s very well-respected already in this group," Klinsmann continued. "In a soccer team it’s very simple. They measure themselves with the quality you bring to the table, not with the age. And not where you’re coming from. They want to see that in the games and we’ve played, over the last 10 days, a lot of small-sided games, very competitive games. And games that you can’t hide. And Julian didn’t hide. Not one second.
"There was never a comparison being made between him or Landon or another player. Because he’s just different. He brings a different element to the game. And we are excited about it."
But picking Green and cutting Donovan wasn't the only curious decision Klinsmann made. He also left defenders Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhust off a backline already facing questions about its health and experience and replaced them with 20-year-old DeAndre Yedlin, who has never started for the national team and 21-year-old German American Jonathan Brooks, who has played just three times for the U.S.
That leaves Klinsmann with seven players who are 24 or younger, 13 with 20 or fewer international caps and just six players with previous World Cup experience. And while the average age of the team -- 27.2 years -- makes it the oldest U.S. World Cup roster since 1998, it has far fewer players with international experience than any recent U.S. team.
"If you really go through it, it’s a very experienced roster. It’s not a young roster," Klinsmann said. "And I think we have a great mixture of guys. Some have a learning curve ahead of them, there’s no doubt about it. If you talk about a Julian Green, about DeAndre Yedlin and then [John] Brooks.
"But they are ready for that learning curve. And they might surprise some people out there."