Commentary: Bruce Arena would have kept Landon Donovan for World Cup

Landon Donovan's World Cup experience would have been a valuable asset for the U.S. in Brazil this summer, former Coach Bruce Arena says, but the veteran forward was left off of the 2014 roster.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Juergen Klinsmann has finalized his 23-man roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In my view, there is one glaring omission: Landon Donovan.

On paper, this roster has both strengths and weaknesses. However, I have two major concerns: experience and the backline. Donovan could have provided invaluable experience and some other options for Klinsmann at the attacking end of the field. The bottom half of the roster is somewhat young and very inexperienced.

The World Cup is arguably the most difficult team competition in sports. The successful teams have top-flight players who play for big clubs and have great experience at both the international and club levels. These players are primed for the challenges. Rarely do we see “Cinderella teams” at a World Cup, and when we do, they are usually host countries. It’s one reason why only eight countries (Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, Uruguay, Spain, Italy and England) have ever hoisted the World Cup trophy in the 19 competitions dating back to 1930.

Klinsmann’s U.S. team is a not very experienced group, with an average age of 27, and only six players have World Cup experience.


The experienced players on the U.S. roster are: DaMarcus Beasley (32 years old; this will be his fourth World Cup), Tim Howard (35; third), Clint Dempsey (31; third) and Michael Bradley (26; second).

Other likely starters: Omar Gonzalez (25), Matt Besler (27), Graham Zusi (27), Jermaine Jones (32), Fabian Johnson (26) and Tim Chandler (24) have no World Cup experience, and very little top-flight experience at club and international levels. This lack of experience could present problems in their opening three games in group play, and in all honesty the U.S. has virtually no margin for error in this tournament.

The biggest area of concern on the roster is the backline, which is highlighted by its two center backs, Gonzalez and Besler. Both are good young center backs, but they lack high-level international experience. They will be matched against some very impressive forwards (for example, world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo) in group play and will need to be error-free.

A saving grace is goalkeeper Howard, who has repeatedly been the difference for the U.S. in big games, and probably will be called upon to do so again in this World Cup. The outside backs are another group of inexperienced players, and will be tested in their ability to defend, and for their ability to pass and support the attack. The backline lacks moxie and quality at this level — and will be the biggest concern for the U.S. in this tournament.


Therefore, the U.S. will be required to defend in numbers if they are to position themselves to earn at least four points in group play (three points for a win, one for a draw) to advance to the round of 16.

I think the final roster offers Klinsmann the option of playing a number of formations. The goalkeeper position has both quality and depth. The backline may be inexperienced, but Klinsmann has a number of adequate options in case of injuries or suspensions.

The U.S. roster is strong in the midfield and forward positions. There are a number of players (Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johannsson) who can score and a number of players who can comfortably play in different formations (4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1).

I think this flexibility will allow the U.S. team to be realigned for each game in group play and hopefully give them some tactical advantages.


In the U.S.'s opening game versus Ghana on June 16, I would anticipate the U.S. playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the final midfield player a tossup among Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya and Brad Davis:

Arena is general manager and head coach of the Galaxy and was head coach of the U.S. national team in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.