Aug 7, 2014, 5:02 PM EST
PORTLAND, Ore. — “Yes, I have played in games like that before,” he quipped, jumping on my mistake while trying to defuse the question. After MLS’s victory in a contentious All-Star Game, I’d asked about the second half’s intensity – a tone that drew the ire of Pep Guardiola. When I didn’t specify “All-Star Games” (merely asking about “games”), Donovan seized on the moment.
It’s the latest version of the story we’ve heard over the last five years: Landon Donovan just is not the same person. As a young player cast into the heat of U.S. Soccer’s (then) narrow spotlight, Donovan played the part of the reserved icon – a clichéd role that would prove soul-sucking for all but the grotesquely cynical.
Now, he can joke. He can prod. He can seize on a slip at the end of an interview. Maturation and changes in his personal life caused a turn four years ago. What emerged from an emotional World Cup and some time away from the game was an honesty that was refreshing from such an entrenched star.
[ RELATED: Donovan to retire at the end of the 2014 season ]
If Donovan was cautious before, perhaps rightly concerned his views that would be dissected ad nauseam, the new Landon was more confident: comfortable correcting a false assumption; personable enough to avoid offense. He was endearing enough to win misgiven hearts, yet flawed enough to endear empathy. If the media’s fawned over the new man, they weren’t the only ones. Everybody could empathize with the new Landon Donovan.
He is now an elder statesman, as much as any 32-year-old could ever be. He could pass judgment on the landscape with the authority of a legend, one whose honesty and fairness underscored his transformation. Whereas the pro forma approach of his prime showed greater deference, Donovan had evolved into a voice. Right or wrong, he had earned our trust.
That was most evident in May, when he was excluded from what could have been his last World Cup. As the U.S. soccer world exploded around him — expressing the rage of a fanbase that’d followed him into their own soccer primes — Donovan presented calm, even while expressing clear dissent.
No, he didn’t see the same world as Jurgen Klinsmann, and yes, he thought he should be in Brazil. But he wasn’t going to lead a revolt. It was just the latest, albeit unfortunate, stop along his road, one that wouldn’t stop him from being the clear, open player he’d evolved into. I’m not going to Brazil, and that’s heart-breaking, but tomorrow comes, regardless.
[ RELATED: Open letter explains Donovan’s retirement ]
There’ll be a lot of talk about that World Cup snub. Donovan may downplay its part, but don’t be too cynical when he does. For as much as his international self was part of his identify, it’s hard to reconcile a Donovan that wants to play soccer walking away merely because of a diminished role with the U.S. Though the World Cup was an obvious goal, playing for the national team hasn’t been a significant part of his life since returning from Cambodia. At some level, while being a “mere” All-Star for Los Angeles, Donovan just wanted to play soccer.
And now, he doesn’t. At least, he doesn’t want to play as much. Turning 33 next March, Donovan’s decision may be less about the U.S. and more about what’s left to accomplish. More MLS Cups? Another few All-Star Games? More records, though he already has the league’s most prestigious ones? At what point does the treadmill break down? In that light, he may have called time on his career after the World Cup regardless.
For today’s Donovan, there are other things to do. There’s family. There’s travel. There’s a life without all the externalities of a professional’s existence. For the most famous player in U.S. soccer history, there’s a whole other part of the soccer world, one he may not have recognized five years ago.
For the person he’s become, the person that’s already checked off so many boxes in that soccer world, it’s time to move on. That he wants to should be reason enough for us.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:13 PM EST
Arsene Wenger says he’s not cheap, and that you should join him for a night out if you don’t believe him.
Dec 20, 2014, 5:56 PM EST
Barcelona are keeping things tight in Spain, while Roma are losing sight of Juventus once again.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:33 PM EST
Four trophies in one calendar year — it’s a good time to be Real Madrid.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:42 PM EST
After collapsing on the field in a game back in July 2013, Engelbrecht had undergone four heart surgeries to get back on the pitch.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:16 PM EST
Things are going to be extra intense all Sunday morning, so put on a pot of coffee and enjoy the rush.
Dec 20, 2014, 2:25 PM EST
Pep Guardiola’s side carries a gaudy plus-37 goal differential, is 9-0 at home and has five wins and three draws on the road.
Dec 20, 2014, 2:15 PM EST
Martinez can’t put his finger on Everton’s struggles, but does think his side must defend better.
Dec 20, 2014, 1:40 PM EST
Mumbai was the home of the title match, with Atletico de Kolkata knocking off the Kerala Blasters 1-0.
Dec 20, 2014, 1:33 PM EST
Seven games took place in the PL on Saturday. Here’s videos, analysis, recaps and more.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
Benteke dances for space before lashing a curler into the goal to give Villa a 1-0 lead. It’s one of those “Why we watch” goals.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:40 PM EST
Match of the Day begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch it live online, here.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:34 PM EST
Watch Lamela scored a stunning strike to give Spurs another win.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:25 PM EST
United captain Wayne Rooney wasn’t interested in discussing his club’s failure to keep up with Manchester City.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:13 PM EST
Spurs seal third-straight win in all competitions to move up to sixth.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:05 PM EST
The Foxes are six points back of safety and share the worst goal differential in England’s top flight (minus-14).
Dec 20, 2014, 12:03 PM EST
Incredible comeback from 2-0 down seals yet another home win for QPR.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:58 AM EST
The loss keeps Hull three points from safety.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:55 AM EST
Saints smash three past sorry Everton,
Aston Villa 1-1 Manchester United: Falcao header equals Benteke’s stunner, 10-man Villans hang on for point
Dec 20, 2014, 11:52 AM EST
United loses ground to No. 2 Manchester City, which trounced Crystal Palace, while Villa grabs its 20th point of the season.
Dec 20, 2014, 10:57 AM EST
It’s half time in the six 10 a.m. ET games in the PL. Here’s what’s going on…
- Arsene Wenger says Arsenal could spend big in January, if the deals are right 0
- Real Madrid outclass San Lorenzo, win 2014 Club World Cup 4
- Premier League Sunday preview: Loaded morning sees Tyne-Wear Derby and Liverpool vs. Arsenal 0
- Premier League roundup: Goals galore as Saints, Tottenham, QPR, Man City win 0
- WATCH: Match of the Day – Recap Saturday’s madness in the Premier League 0
- After “two points dropped” at Aston Villa, Wayne Rooney says media was driving title talk 0