On Thursday afternoon, United States men's national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his roster for the upcoming slate of five games his team will play between May 29 and June 18; two friendly games against Belgium and Germany and three crucial World Cup Qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras respectively.
But the name that dominated the discourse surrounding the squad announced was the one not on it.
In his absence, the diminutive Landon Donovan continues to loom large over the national team. Having taken a sabbatical from the sport starting in early December and lasting through late March, he missed the first three World Cup qualifiers and the pre-season with his club team, the Los Angeles Galaxy . Klinsmann officially deemed Donovan not fit enough to rejoin the national team.
Indeed, his performances in a handful of starts for the Galaxy thus far have been a mixed bag, ranging from forgettable to the Landon of old, when he scored and bagged two assists against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday. It's been widely speculated, however, that Klinsmann is sending a message that dues need to be paid and commitment demonstrated. The German-born manager admitted to no such reasoning in a statement affixed to the roster release, of course.
"I think Landon is catching up," he said. "He's just working himself back into shape and back into a playing rhythm. He will get sharper and more confident with every game he's going to play now. So we'll watch that, we'll monitor that and we'll decide then when to bring him back into our picture. It's not going to be for these upcoming games, but maybe later on we'll definitely expect him back in the team."
Whatever the reasoning for the omission of the national team's all-time leading scorer, the news on Thursday was about Donovan and his reaction to the snub - he said he was disappointed but understanding and hopeful he'll have re-joined the team by the 2014 World Cup - rather than those who will actually play in a campaign-defining stretch of games.
But the roster itself was plenty interesting. Klinsmann called in a whopping 29 players, taking into account that eight players are a lone yellow card removed from a World Cup qualifier suspension. The other contributing factor is that the United States will play the Gold Cup on its home soil in July and that any Europe-based player - saved for those playing in Scandinavia - not in this camp after their seasons end in the next week or two will be idle in the interim; which is to say that players like Stuart Holden and Brek Shea, who have contributed little to their English clubs of late due to injury or overwhelming competition, aren't expected to play during this fivesome of games but are merely being kept around in order to stay in shape.
With just about everyone healthy, save for right backs Timmy Chandler and Steve Cherundolo, the two best options in that slot, Klinsmann could pick as he pleases for a change, whereas previous camps were marred by injuries. That gives him the luxury to exclude Donovan - even if he is a possibility for the Gold Cup - and central defender Carlos Bocanegra, who was recently stripped of the captaincy and pushed awary from the team.
He did call up six goalkeepers. With Tim Howard the presumed starter and Brad Guzan - who excelled in a March victory over Costa Rica and tie in Mexico, posting shutouts while Howard was injured - acting as his understudy, four Major League Soccer goalkeepers will rotate and in out of the roster throughout the five-game series. That way, all will be exposed to a World Cup qualifying camp without missing too much time out of their teams' regular seasons.
The United States is fairly well equipped in every line, with most major contributors wrapping up strong club seasons, but the defense continues to induce headaches. Without Bocanegra, who has reclaimed a starting role with Racing Santander of the Spanish second division since his ouster, and Cherundolo and Chandler, the experience in the back is lacking. Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler are the presumed center back pairing after their strong work against Mexico. But both are nevertheless very green at this level. Still, Klinsmann maintains a confidence in them.
"Over the last year I think we've stepped it up in terms of competition for the two center back positions," he said. "I think Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler did an amazing jump, especially with the game they played in Estadio Azteca in our tie in Mexico, and also with their club teams."
Geoff Cameron is expected to slot in at right back, where he often plays for his club Stoke City . But it's not his natural position, and he isn't much use pushing forward on the flank, an area where Cherundolo and Chandler excel. Behind them, the lone viable options are Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst, who are seasoned but strike little fear into opposing attackers. Only at left back is the United States well equipped, with either the converted DaMarcus Beasley or Fabian Johnson the likely starter, backstopped by Edgar Castillo.
A cluttered roster should contain enough talent to take the necessary points from the qualifiers to keep the qualifying campaign - wherein the US currently sits in a three-way tie for second place - on track. If the defense holds up, that is.
Which might be a big if.
US men's national team roster:
Goalkeepers : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tally Hall (Houston), Bill Hamid (D.C.), Tim Howard (Everton, England), Sean Johnson (Chicago), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)
Defenders : DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla, Mexico), Matt Besler (Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke, England), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana, Mexico), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Clarence Goodson (Brondby, Denmark), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim, Germany), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg, Germany)
Midfielders : Michael Bradley (Roma, Italy), Joe Corona (Tijuana, Mexico), Brad Davis (Houston), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor, Turkey), Stuart Holden (Bolton, England), Jermaine Jones (Schalke, Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht, Belgium), Brek Shea (Stoke, England), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim, Germany), Graham Zusi (Kansas City)
Forwards : Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna, Austria), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham, England), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna, Mexico), Eddie Johnson (Seattle).