It was perhaps the most controversial decision in U.S. soccer history. In 2014, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan – the most prolific U.S. men’s goal scorer ever – off of the World Cup roster.
There was shock. There was outrage. And, for Donovan, then 32, there was indescribable sadness.
“Well, as people who followed the World Cup know in 2014, it was the hardest part of my professional life being left off that team,” Donovan said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I had an opportunity recently to sit down with Jurgen after many years, and time heals some wounds and gives you the opportunity to try to see the other (side). For me, it was very black and white. (I always thought), ‘He was wrong. He didn’t know what he was doing.’ I sat down and talked with him for a couple hours, and afterwards I said, ‘Oh, well I didn’t really see his perspective.’ He laid it out for me why he made the decision and why he decided to do certain things. And then you can say, ‘Well, I still don’t agree with it, but at least I see his side of it and I can understand it better.’ I think having an open mind is really important.”
Now 34, Donovan has put that experience behind him. He has a six-month old son, he recently became part-owner of the Premier League’s Swansea City, and he will begin taking coaching classes next week to see if that is something he would enjoy.
Donovan would have liked to represent his country one final time in the World Cup, but he realizes it was a good learning experience that he didn’t.
“You lean on people that you know care about you,” Donovan said of coping with rejection. “But one of the things that was really interesting to me is I still get people to this day that come up that are legitimately angry about it. I’ve long since moved past it, but I think what happened is everybody’s been in a situation where they feel like they deserve something and they didn’t get it: They should have got a job and someone else got it, or they got fired where they shouldn’t have been fired. So I think everyone related with it. That’s why there was this powerful emotional response to it – certainly for me. But it was the first time in my life that I had dealt with that kind of failure, so when I look back in retrospect, it sucked at the time, but now looking back, I’m glad – because I had been given everything my whole life. Everything had been easy, everything had gone the way I wanted it to. And so for the first time, I had to say, ‘Okay, maybe life isn’t this easy, and other people actually experience this, too.’”