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Donovan Is Off U.S. World Cup Team And Other Sports News


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Let's open the toy department. Time for sports.

SIMON: Goal! Just warming up for the World Cup in soccer three weeks away. Didn't sound like it, did it?

The U.S. roster was announced on Thursday and made news with who is not on the list. Landon Donovan, the U.S. team's biggest star, won't play in Brazil. Why not? Who did he possibly offend? Not NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) Oh, Scott, that goal call is fantastic. You're going to have to learn how to hold it for about a minute more, though, so practice, practice.

SIMON: (Laughter) I mean, I'm working my way up. We'll do a little more each week. And I'm sure every - all of our listeners will look forward to it. Look, soccer's come so far in America. It's our lead sports story.

GOLDMAN: Amazing, how about that. You know, the public angsting over the Donovan decision that's been going on since Thursday is the kind of thing that happens in countries where soccer is way more important. So maybe this is a step towards having the game more ingrained in our sports culture, a small step.

SIMON: He is a superstar on team USA. OK, give us all kinds of unfounded speculation. Why do you think he was left off the roster?

GOLDMAN: Well, let's start with what we know. You ask head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and he says it's because the players who made the 23-man final roster are a tiny bit ahead of Landon Donovan. Donovan is 32, not as fast or explosive as in the past. And he hasn't played very well in the current MLS season, major league soccer.

Now let's get to the speculation. You ask the respected soccer writer Grant Wahl from Sports Illustrated and he will say, and he wrote, that the decision also is based on an uneasy relationship between Klinsmann and Donovan. It dates back to 2009 when Klinsmann was managing a German team, Bayern Munich, he brought Donovan overseas on loan, had high hopes for Donovan, but he didn't do very well. He went back to Major League Soccer, and Klinsmann lost his job months later. Then you zip to last year. Donovan took a several month break from soccer as World Cup qualifying was ramping up. And that didn't endear him to Klinsman, who started coaching the U.S. team in 2011.

SIMON: Only three weeks away from the games in Brazil.


SIMON: How does the - what does the U.S. team look like without Landon Donovan, who knows how to score.

GOLDMAN: Well, Klinsman thinks, you know, they'll be fine. He's got a talented team. There are a number of young guys who haven't played in the World Cup before, and Klinsmann responds to that by saying there's a first time for everything. Now definitely, there are those who say without Donovan and his World Cup experience - he's played in three of them - it will hurt the team.

Mike Woitalla with Soccer America Magazine told me that Donovan is still, at age 32, one of the few U.S. players who can do the unpredictable magical thing on the field, a guy who can create scoring chances, who can scare opponents.

Now with or without Donovan, this was always going to be a tough as nails campaign for the U.S. with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany in its first round group. The Donovan decision will hover over Brazil. If the U.S. doesn't get out of its group, Klinsmann will be blamed. If the U.S. does well, Klinsmann's a genius.

SIMON: Quick question - the NBA, according to multiple reports, Donald Sterling has agreed to let his wife Shelley sell the LA Clippers. What may have changed his vow to try to fight to hold onto his team?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, it sounds like he's waving the white flag. Legal experts say it may be a possible delaying tactic or a way to hang on to at least part of the team. There are still a lot of legal scenarios that may still play out. The NBA wants all Sterlings out of the league and still is pointing to a June 3 hearing and a possible vote ousting Sterling and his wife from ownership. So this could be a dramatic next 10 days.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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