Thursday, May 22, 2014


In the summer of 2002 a lot of things were happening in my life. A lot of things that made me feel like a grown-up, but really exemplified that I was just another stupid college kid.

I spent that summer working on campus at Eastern Nazarene College. Which means I was living in 80 year old brick dorms without air conditioning. I literally had seven box fans strategically placed around my couch. For a week or so, I snuck into the office where I worked and slept on the floor. I at nothing but hot dogs and bagged salad all summer. I grew a beard - a large, shaggy, red beard. I went on a couple quasi-dates with a crazy girl who already had a boyfriend. I lost so much weight that, coupled with the beard, it looked like I'd survived an Andean plane crash and spent two years in the woods eating grubs and berries.

The summer of 2002 was a strange summer, but beyond most of those other memories I'd be happy to forget, is the one I hope to remember for a very long time. The World Cup was played in Korea and Japan that summer, which meant most matches started at 1am or later. I convinced the night security at the college to let me into the student center to watch said games. I spent a lot of nights there.

I was 20 years old and the stars of the US Men's National Team at the 2002 World Cup just happened to be a pair of 20 year olds - Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley, who'd previously taken the world by storm in a youth tournament the year before. They were surprise additions to a squad reeling from a terrible 1998 performance and even more surprising: they got big minutes.

Both players contributed mightily as the US team knocked off heavy favorite Portugal and then drew with co-hosts South Korea. They lost to Poland, but somehow managed to advance - beating Mexico - MEXICO! - in the first knock-out round and then losing to Germany in the quarterfinals because the referee refused to give a clear penalty for a handball in the box - a slight my generation will never forgive.

It was the greatest performance in the history of US soccer and it was lead by guys my age. I spent a lot of lonely nights jumping and screaming around the ENC student center. If the denim-clad misfits of 1994 launched soccer in the US - these boys cemented its position. An entire generation of us will forever be linked to those late nights in 2002.

Donovan and Beasley had a lot of ups and downs through the next decade. Donovan more ups than downs (and vice versa for Beasley). 2014 found him the all-time leading goal scorer for the US and hands down the greatest player we've ever produced. It also found Beasley surprisingly apt at left-back and reviving his career on the back line.

Beasley had done so well this year, in fact, he now seemed a lock to make the World Cup, with Donovan, the fourth time each would represent the US at the biggest sporting event in the world. Donovan was a given, after all.

Or so we thought.

Today, #USMNT coach, Jurgen Klinsmann released his final roster for Brazil - which, as it turns out, is just a preliminary roster for 2018. Landon Donovan's name is not on it.

This turns my stomach. Literally.

I can't even think about watching US World Cup matches this summer without Donovan at least on the bench. It's just not fair. I know Klinsmann is taking a young team to get them some experience before 2018. He's written off this summer in favor of future development, but that is such an un-American way of approaching things.

US Soccer deserves the chance to bid a proper farewell to Landon Donovan. We need to see him donning that ridiculous jersey and sprinting onto the pitch for a standing ovation from Sam's Army. This guy is single-handed responsible for the growth of the sport in the US over the last decade. He's born unbelievable pressure and paid a steep price.

At this point it all seems like a Zombie World Cup. Something that happens - it will have a life, or sorts - but something that's not quite there, not quite real.

I'm going on vacation to Hawaii during most of the group stages (and the US has very little hope of making it beyond the group - less now that Klinsmann has launched a grenade into his own locker room), so it was going to take work to see the US play. I'm not sure any work will be worth it.

I know. I'm delusional. I'm still holding out hope this is part of Klinsmann's master motivational plan. He'll leave Donovan at home only for Julian Green to be mysteriously "injured" during practice in Brazil and Saint Landon will have to come flying in to rescue the tournament. Then the US can ride that wave out of the group stage and who knows how high?!

There's a part of me that wants to believe, but there's another part that recognizes unemotional, German pragmatism when I see it.

I've been on the Klinsy bandwagon from the beginning - from 2006 really. I have, and I think I still do, believed in his philosophy and plan for the development of the #USMNT. I just think he downright missed the boat here. US fans aren't going to stand for this. It's a travesty, a betrayal - at least for those of us who came of age on uncomfortable couches in the wee hours of 2002.

I gave up baseball a few years back. The steroid era ruined things for me - took all the joy out of the game. I can't even describe the disconnect, really. I replaced baseball largely with soccer - the English Premier League and the US Men's National Team. The #USMNT is the only team whose games are scheduled on my calendar (I haven't missed one in over 18 months). I'm feeling the same way, right now, about that beloved squad, I feel about baseball. Emptyness. Disconnect.

I sure hope this isn't a feeling that lasts. I don't want to think one move like this could sever a really happy part of my life so quickly and completely. I'm not optimistic right now. It really is a travesty - a betrayal - at least for those of us who came of age on uncomfortable couches in the wee hours of 2002.

US Soccer needs to do something about this or they risk losing the generation they thought they had for good.

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