I don’t follow soccer very closely, but I do love the World Cup. I love it for the same reason I love the hockey tournament in the Olympics. Something about seeing players compete for their countries ever four years (because if it was more frequently than that, it would be overkill) is really cool. The United States is not exactly know for their prowess in men’s soccer, but it’s still a really fun tournament. It seems, though, that the United States Soccer Federation is making a mistake very similar to the one I called USA Hockey out on before the start of the Olympics.
Much the way USA Hockey decided to leave Bobby Ryan, one of the most talented American-born players in the NHL, off the Olympic roster, the soccer people have decided to leave Landon Donovan off the World Cup Roster. Really? We’re doing this again? We’re going into another international tournament without the most talented roster possible. When USA Hockey decided to go without Ryan, I criticized them because the United States seemed to forget in that moment that they’re not Canada or Sweden, or Finland. They don’t have more superstar talent than they know what to do with. In soccer, the United States has grown and developed as a soccer country, but we’re still not Brazil, or Italy, or England, or Spain, or any of the half-dozen other countries that would be favored ahead of the United States in an international soccer tournament.
Maybe this means I know nothing about soccer, but Landon Donovan is the only American-born player I can name off the top of my head. The 32 year old Donovan has been one of the names that you hear all the time without even following their sport all that closely, like Tiger Woods, or Manny Pacquiao, or Roger Federer. I’ve heard him referred to as the Steve Nash of soccer, which sounds like a really exciting thing that you’d be crazy to not want on your team provided he’s healthy and still in his prime.
I don’t know if it’s a matter of ego, or a matter of trying to get cute by playing a specific brand of soccer that Donovan does not fit into, but Bobby Ryan and USA Hockey are a cautionary tale. The US Olympic hockey team in 2014 had a lot of promise, but could not put the puck in the net against Canada in the semi-final round, and were stonewalled again by Tuukka Rask against Finland in the Bronze Medal Game. Bobby Ryan could have helped the team score. If you leave elite talent on the table, like American teams seem to be in the habit of doing, you’ll spend the next four years wondering what might have been.