Aug 7, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT
Just as Landon Donovan took to the dais in Carson, Calif., Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber was honoring his league’s most-famous U.S. star, marking the LA Galaxy icon’s impending retirement with a statement that underscored his importance to the domestic league.
Donovan, who will retire from professional soccer at the end of the season, joined Major League Soccer in 2001 after spending his late teens in Europe with Bayer Leverkusen. Since then, Donovan has often been the focal point of the league’s marketing, serving as the face of MLS since a second return in 2005.
“There is no doubt that Major League Soccer would not be what it is today without Landon Donovan,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, via a statement distributed by the league office. “His decision to join MLS in 2001 was a statement to the entire soccer community, at the most crucial time in our history, that MLS could be a league of choice for the best American players. ”
[ RELATED: Landon Donovan to retire after 2014 MLS season ]
That decision led to MLS Cup victories with San Jose in 2001 and 2003, with the U.S.’s all-time leading scorer eventually collecting three more titles in Los Angeles.
Again returning from Germany in 2005, Donovan’s permanent move coincided with a period of stabilization and growth, with the league expanding from the 12 teams that finished that season to the 19 that will end the 2014 campaign.
“Landon is to MLS, what Michael Jordan was to the NBA, Wayne Gretzky was to the NHL and Tiger Woods was to the PGA Tour,” Garber said, “(he’s) a player who’s sporting accomplishments and popularity transformed their respective leagues and set a new standard for how the game would be played.”
But Donovan’s contributions transcend his on-field performance. As Garber noted, Donovan the personality, the most-famous U.S. soccer’s ever known, gave the league a key focal point. No matter how little people knew about MLS, they knew Landon Donovan.
“While Landon is arguably the greatest player our country has ever produced, it is his character and his commitment to growing the game in the United States that truly makes him so special,” Garber explained. ” We plan to celebrate his career during the second half of the MLS season, and we look forward to working alongside Landon as he continues to work in the sport he loves.”
Donovan’s final MLS regular season match will be Oct. 25 in Seattle, with LA’s final home game of the regular season taking place against the Sounders on Oct. 19. If the Galaxy makes the playoffs, however, Donovan will be taking his final bow in the postseason.
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