Klinsmann had announced a preliminary 30-man roster on May 12 and training began two days later at Stanford University's football and soccer stadiums. When they arrived for Thursday's practice, players had no idea this would be cutdown day. Having already watched his team in scrimmages against Stanford last Saturday and the L.A. Galaxy II three days later, Klinsmann felt the impetus to make decisions.
"We discussed it every day, when is a good time and how we felt since we go into another scrimmage tomorrow morning," he said, in a golf cart outside the locker room, looking ahead to a practice session against the San Jose Earthquakes' reserves.
He put off discussing the Donovan decision until a Friday news conference. Asked whether he agonized over it, he said "a little bit of time."
The U.S. Soccer Federation quoted Klinsmann as saying "this is certainly one of the toughest decisions in my coaching career, to tell a player like him, with everything he has done and what he represents, to tell him that he's not part of that 23 right now."
"I just see some other players slightly ahead of him," Klinsmann said, "He took it the best way possible. His disappointment is huge, which I totally understand. He took it very professionally. He knows I have the highest respect for him, but I have to make the decisions as of today for this group going to Brazil."
Donovan, the American record holder with 57 international goals, was gone by the time the roster was announced. Players who survived the cut met in the Stanford football locker room, went in golf carts to a nearby volleyball court and had fun playing a kick version of volleyball. They returned to the football locker room for the gear, and as they left the Stanford band gathered outside and serenaded them with "Star Wars."
Donovan was bypassed in favor of 23-year-old Aron Johannsson and 31-year-old Chris Wondolowski, who joined Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey as the forwards.
Klinsmann also took 18-year-old midfielder Julian Green, who was eligible to play for the U.S. and Germany and only made his national team debut last month.
Eric Wynalda, a forward for the U.S. at the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups, said Klinsmann's decision will be compared to coach Steve Sampson announcing two months before the 1998 tournament that he was dropping captain John Harkes.
"That was an incredibly disruptive decision that really destroyed our team. A lot of people are going to make that correlation, and I don't think they should because it's a different scenario," said Wynalda, now an analyst for Fox. "The implications of leaving Landon out of this team could strengthen the side. Where we've relied so much on him in the past, this forces other people to really feel the belief from their manager. As horrible as this must be for Landon, and as agonizing as it is for Jurgen, these are the tough decisions you pay Jurgen Klinsmann a lot of money to make."
Donovan was a mainstay of the national team before he took a sabbatical of about four months after the 2012 season, spending part of the time in Cambodia. Klinsmann said Donovan would have to earn his spot back.
He restored Donovan to the roster for last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, where Donovan excelled, and played Donovan for World Cup qualifiers later in the year. But Klinsmann kept him out of the starting lineup for last month's exhibition against Mexico, saying Donovan practiced poorly because of a knee problem.
Donovan said this week his knee was OK.
"I'm very confident in my abilities and I think I'm deserving to be a part of the squad, but I have to prove that and I have to earn it," he said Monday.
When Klinsmann announced his 30-man preliminary roster on May 12, he said he viewed Donovan more a forward than a midfielder.
"I don't have that youthful energy and excitement that I did in 2002, but I see the game and I see the situation a lot more clearly now, so I'm able to I think enjoy it more in that way," Donovan said. "When you're younger, you're just sort of going crazy to do whatever it takes to make the team and you forget to enjoy it, And now I'm actually getting to enjoy it."
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto), Brad Davis (Houston), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Kansas City)
Fowards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)