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Did Landon Donovan’s World Cup omission force him into early retirement?

Aug 7, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

Was Landon Donovan always planning to retire at the end of the 2014 Major League Soccer season, or was his hand forced?

The real reasons behind his decision will likely come out in the coming days and weeks, but it has certainly been one heck of a summer for the all-time leading scorer in MLS and the U.S. national team.

[RELATED: Donovan to retire]

At the end of May, Donovan was shockingly left off the USA’s final 23-man World Cup roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as his chance to play in a fourth-straight World Cup for the Stars and Stripes was taken away from him.

Donovan’s fall from grace with the national team could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

After taking a self imposed sabbatical during the 2013 offseason, then coming back stronger than ever to lead the U.S. to Gold Cup success in 2013 and prove himself to Klinsmann once again, the damage done to Donovan’s pride at being left off the World Cup roster this summer seems to have been lasting.

[RELATED: LD hails U.S. fans as “lifeblood”]

Just days after his omission was confirmed, Donovan, in true fashion, showed the USA what they would be missing as he scored twice vs. Philadelphia to become Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer. Time and time again Donovan proved the doubters wrong and now he has achieved pretty much everything you can as a professional soccer player.

source: Getty Images

One of Donovan;s finest moments came at the 2010 World Cup. His last-gasp goal sent the USMNT through to the last 16.

He has scored at two different World Cups for the USA. He has played in, scored more goals, and played in more MLS All-Star Game games than any other player. He has played in the Bundesliga and the Premier League for historic clubs. He is the all-time leading scorer for the USA with 57 goals in 156 games. He is the all-time leading scorer in MLS with 138 goals in 320 appearances.

Donovan has been the face of the league and soccer in North America for well over a decade and has stuck to his task or constantly promoting the game, rallying behind the U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS to do whatever he can to help raise soccer’s profile. Then, as Klinsmann deemed his play to not be good enough for the USA’s efforts in Brazil this summer, Donovan was cast aside and humiliated.

Donovan’s swansong for the USA was taken away from him.

Justified or not. That must have accelerated his decision to retire at the age of 32. With the 2015 Gold Cup, 2016 Copa America and perhaps even the 2018 World Cup coming up for the USA and Donovan, had Klinsmann selected the LA forward this summer, maybe Donovan’s career would have lasted for another three or four years. Players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and many others have continued into their late 30’s before calling it quits.

Instead for Donovan, it’s almost over. His U.S. omission has a lot to do with it.

Yes, Donovan thrived and enjoyed being the face of MLS. However, his time leading the U.S. national team was seemingly over, and that may have been enough to make him reconsider his future as a pro. With no more U.S. duty for Donovan, playing solely in MLS week-in, week-out, for the next few years may not have been enough.

He has tasted success as the face of the USA’s soccer hopes. Now, a man who has spent most of his time in the spotlight was reduced to league play. Nothing less, nothing more. That’s okay for some players but not Donovan.

On the face of it, perhaps this was the right time for Donovan to step down. On Wednesday he jumped off the bench in Portland, arguably the center of soccer’s uprising in North America, in front of a packed house and scored the game-winning goal against German giants Bayern Munich (a team he once played for, but got a rough deal with) in the All-Star Game. He then left the pitch to a standing ovation. Since he made his debut for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001, the league has grown exponentially and the state of soccer in North America has never been healthier. Donovan is a big part of that. Ask any casual soccer fan, or just any sports fans, to name the first U.S. soccer player that comes in to their head. Now, and for the foreseeable future, I bet they say: Landon Donovan.

Now, we know when Donovan’s fairytale career will come to a close. Whether he gets one last chance to suit up for the U.S. or finishes everything off in style by winning MLS Cup 2014 with the LA Galaxy remains to be seen.

The way Donovan’s storybook career has played out over the years, you’d be a fool to bet against it. The king of soccer in the USA has almost left the building. The first truly great American soccer player will be sorely missed.

Was this the right time for Donovan to hang up his boots?

  1. crivasldnont - Aug 7, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    Everything comes to an end. He did have a long run. But, is his greatness measured by his goal? Tim Howard has a more successful club career overseas, he might as well be the most underrated player in USMNT team history. Only thanks to Social Media people is finally acknowledging him.

    • twerkslikeMiley - Aug 7, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      False. Goalie is not as important as a field player like Donovan (unless the once in a blue when you have a guy like Howard making 16 stops in a World Cup). If if you are measuring Donovan only by the goal he scored against Algeria then it’s quite clear you haven’t watched much soccer in your life.

      • crivasldnont - Aug 7, 2014 at 3:53 PM

        LMAO! Good one buddy. You are absolutely correct, I try to avoid “soccer”. A footy type of guy 😉 And football is more than just mere statistics. And goalies also represent a symbolic figure in football throughout the years (Include the Zamoras, Zoffs, Taffarels, Barthez, Zengas, Casillas, Zubizarretas, Goycocheas, should we go on?) Leadership and performance transpires beyond statistics, amd positions. Enjoy your “soccer”!

      • kellybeck15 - Aug 7, 2014 at 5:12 PM

        Landon Donovan has had a fantastic domestic career and, through both attrition and consistent form, had an admirable international success too.

        Where Donovan falls behind players like Howard and Dempsey is his unwillingness to test himself at the highest level. He was always content to be a superstar in the MLS instead of taking his career to a another level in Europe. For that reason, he will always be a tier below the 2 aforementioned elite American players of his generation.

        Donovan has been a fantastic player, but he is always have a “what might have been if he truly pushed himself” tag attached to an otherwise accomplished career.

      • twerkslikeMiley - Aug 7, 2014 at 5:14 PM

        Obnoxious. In my country, I was brought up calling it soccer, I played soccer, and I will continue to call it soccer. No relevance to my knowledge of the game. But it’s cool, act like a snob.

        Other than Manuel Nuer maybe this past World Cup, has any goalie been so important to a teams success (and even he would admit this German team had an incredible amount of talent)? Not a single one of the most impressive goalies reached the semi’s, besides Neur. I also likely don’t know every elite European goalie because in this country we only get the EPL, occasional Serie A or La Ligue games, and the MLS. Of course, I do know a few names you pointed out and those ones (Casillas, Zoff) and they were on loaded teams so again, how important were they? I agree 100% leadership is important, but a player that is counted on, on average, to make a few plays a game is more important than a guy like Donovan who is the focus of every other play on the field – yet continued to produce in the biggest moments (all one has to do is look at his WC statistics compared to say, Ronaldo).

        Sorry – will go to my grave feeling like field players are much more important than a goalie.

  2. eternitus141 - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:45 PM

    Did I just see someone say that Landon Donovan is a “tier behind” Clint Dempsey? I mean… really? Aside from simply watching the two play for 10-14 years and seeing what they’ve meant to their respective teams, there are also actual tangible things like statistics to consider. That comment is completely unsupported.

    Landon Donovan – 156 Caps, 57 Goals, 58 Assists – Figured in 115 Goals; .74 per cap; WC – 12 GMs, 5 goals
    Clint Dempsey – 109 Caps, 39 Goals, 12 Assists – Figured in 51 Goals; ..47 per cap; WC – 10 GMs, 4 goals

    I don’t have tallies on WC assists, but LD has been a player who not only scores goals but sets them up for others, including many set-ups for Clint Dempsey. He makes it happen, and, from a long-time supporter’s standpoint, there has never been anyone close to him in U.S. football in terms of putting the ball into the back of the net. I would like to see a statistic that give the percentage of all USMNT goals Donovan has factored in from 2000-2013. I bet it’s ridiculous. USMNT has never had an offensive player like that – who can both create and score – closest they’ve ever gotten to a true “number 10.”

    Dempsey and Donovan are both “Hall of Fame” level players in the U.S., but Donovan has always been on a different level. That’s no disrespect to Dempsey – It’s similar to comparing Michael Jordan to Karl Malone (except neither is MJ or KM on the world football level, of course – just for illustrative purposes).

    I can’t compare Donovan to Tim Howard – apples and oranges.

    But putting Donovan BEHIND Dempsey – come on. Be realistic and don’t let your feelings cloud your judgment. You don’t have to like him, but you need to be honest about him and his performances/value. Donovan is the man and has always been the man, and it sure would have been nice to have him against Belgium in Salvador. Just like in the MLS all star game against FCBM, he gets it in the goal.

  3. braxtonrob - Aug 8, 2014 at 5:55 AM

    Well done Joe.

    Landon Donovan will be vindicated further when JK fails horribly in Russia.


    (Bring on the LD-haters now.)

    • eternitus141 - Aug 8, 2014 at 8:36 AM

      Agreed. Though I think LD needs no more vindication than his record on the field, which speaks for itself. I have a hard time believing that the haters actually watched LD play in his prime (or even in last year’s Gold Cup), and they certainly couldn’t have seen what the USMNT looked like before he arrived. He’s as close as the US have ever had to a true “number 10.” He not only scores, but he creates, and often when the game is on the line. They’re right – there’s much more than “the goal” that needs to be considered, like his 57 international goals and 58 assists, which means he factored into 115 goals for the USMNT over his 13 years on the active roster. I think the next highest tally is Clint Dempsey’s 51.

      He’s led a quantum leap in US attacking football, where supporters no longer needed to hope and pray for set pieces, lucky strikes and defensive breakdowns by the opponent’s back line to get a chance to put the ball in the net – chances that were clumsily bungled more often than they should have been, by the way.

      I haven’t seen the haters produce a single convincing argument other than his behavior over the past couple of years. It just seems to be fashionable to bash the guy, which is a shame. He’s a human being. He may have not made the best choice to take a sabbatical, but he earned the right to make a mistake or two – far more than the haters have earned a right to criticize him. JK’s treatment of him is a disgrace. It ended up hurting the USMNT, who could have used him vs. Belgium, where I’m sure his abilities could have helped take pressure off of Tim Howard. My heart and deep appreciation go out to LD. It was pleasure to watch him play.

      As far as JK – he’s done an excellent job with the USMNT and I’m glad we have him. None of that excuses his behavior toward LD, which was so far beyond the pale that I remained shocked that someone is capable of such a thing.

      On behalf of those who have watched your entire career, thank you Landon Donovan.

  4. eternitus141 - Aug 8, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    I can’t believe anyone who would put any U.S. outfield player anywhere close to LD in the history books ever watched him play, saw the state of US football before he arrived, or even bothered to look at the statistics. He factored in to 115 goals. The next highest tally is 51. He not only scored goals, but he creates. The closest we have ever had to a true number 10.

    JK’s treatment of LD is a disgrace, as are the comments that I see knocking him. If anyone earned a right to make a mistake, it’s LD. Thank you LD, you revolutionized US Football, including introducing it to lots of things that the rest of the world has enjoyed for years (like the attacking third of the field, for instance – LOL).

  5. Vnice - Aug 8, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Funny how comments critical of your writing get deleted. Immature much?

  6. talgrath - Aug 8, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    I think it’s pretty simple, the rumors and the whispers for some time now have been that Donovan isn’t that motivated anymore and he said that himself in the press conference. Chances are pretty good that the lack of motivation in LD is the reason that he was left off the World Cup squad and the reason he’s calling it quits now. Is that unfortunate? Yeah, but it’s better that he stops playing than trying to force himself to keep playing. In any case, hats off to Donovan, he’s had a stellar career, enjoy “retirement”.

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