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US Coach Defends Cutting Star Player Before World Cup

FILE - United States' Landon Donovan celebrates his goal against Mexico during the second half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Sept. 10, 2013.
U.S. national football (soccer) coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he dropped the team's all-time leading scorer from the squad because other forwards have surpassed him during preparations for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.

In a press conference Friday, Klinsmann praised forward Landon Donovan for the "professional" way he handled being left off the team and said he may call on Donovan to return in case of injuries.

Klinsmann spoke a day after he reduced his squad from 30 players training for the World Cup to the final 23-man roster. Donovan, a 32-year-old attacker, was surprisingly one of the seven left off the roster.

Klinsmann, who coached Germany in the 2006 World Cup, called it "one of the toughest decisions" of his coaching career.

Donovan, considered the most recognizable figure in U.S. soccer during the past decade, was looking to play in his fourth World Cup. He has 57 goals in 156 international appearances and has provided some of the greatest moments in American soccer history, including his performance during the U.S. team's quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Donovan expressed disappointment at being left off this year's World Cup squad but stressed that he remains "committed to helping grow soccer in the U.S. in the years to come."

Despite his past success on the U.S. national team, Donovan had not been considered a lock to make this year's roster. He took a nearly four-month sabbatical after the 2012 season, and Klinsmann had said that Donovan would have to earn his spot back.

The full 23 man squad named on Thursday includes:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Brad Davis, Mix Diskerud, Julian Green, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannsson, Chris Wondolowski

The U.S. team takes on Ghana June 16 in its World Cup opener.