Aug 7, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
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.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:48 PM EDT
Three Premier League sides have some serious work to do on transfer deadline day. Who needs what?
Aug 31, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
Harry Redknapp was the ultimate star of transfer deadline day. Tuesday will be a sad, empty day without Harry around.
Done Deals: Recapping Man United (and others’) busy day — De Gea drama; Chicharito out; $56 million for Martial
Aug 31, 2015, 7:39 PM EDT
Manchester United were the world’s busiest football club on Monday. They, along with others, made headlines ahead of the transfer deadline.
NO DEAL: David de Gea’s transfer to Real Madrid falls through as Man United paperwork arrives too late
Aug 31, 2015, 6:53 PM EDT
Manchester United failed to submit the necessary paperwork before Spain’s transfer deadline, and De Gea will not move to Real Madrid.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:05 PM EDT
Two goals, one assist in a 3-0 victory over your club’s most hated rivals — more than enough to win POTW honors.
Aug 31, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Two Bradleys, two from Crew SC and two from the Dynamo — the latest MLS Team of the Week.
Aug 31, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT
Yes, rumors know no season, but the transfer mill will churn out a lot less gossip after Tuesday’s end of the summer transfer season.
Aug 31, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Manchester United and Real Madrid have swapped goalkeepers, with the Premier League side landing a load of dough, too.
Aug 31, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
The UEFA Champions League clubs don’t find themselves well-represented in the Premier League Team of the Week after a weekend of shocks around Britain.
Aug 31, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT
We’re still waiting to see whether Javier Hernandez seals his move to Bayer Leverkusen. “Chicharito” has been spotted around Bayer HQ.
Aug 31, 2015, 11:23 AM EDT
The Black Panther is doing more than simply prowling; He is finishing his chances with style.
Aug 31, 2015, 11:09 AM EDT
The 2006 World Cup champion will organize Miami FC for co-owner Paolo Maldini during the club’s first season in the NASL.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:51 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look back at the PL weekend.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
It looks like we’re headed for a bonkers Transfer Deadline Day on Tuesday, and a trio of Premier League teams might be doing some under-the-radar business on Monday.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:33 AM EDT
With the transfer deadline approaching its Tuesday conclusion, deals and rumored deals are hitting the headlines at a head-spinning rate.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
This Little Pea went to market, reportedly finding a new home in the Bundesliga (And did he really ask for $135k per goal from West Ham?).
Aug 31, 2015, 8:10 AM EDT
The French federation says Martial was given permission to leave camp by Didier Deschamps, and that he’ll sign a contract with United.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
A complete performance from the Red Bulls, who will finish the season unbeaten against their Atlantic Cup rivals.
Aug 30, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
Find out what moves have been completed with the transfer deadline approaching, as Wolfsburg made three big deals today.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
More than 64,000 supporters packed CenturyLink Field as the Sounders downed the Timbers in a Cascadia Cup clash.
- Big Spenders: Which Premier League clubs must go all-in on transfer deadline day? 0
- Done Deals: Recapping Man United (and others’) busy day — De Gea drama; Chicharito out; $56 million for Martial 0
- NO DEAL: David de Gea’s transfer to Real Madrid falls through as Man United paperwork arrives too late 3
- Report: De Gea moving to Madrid as Costa Rican hero Navas heads to Old Trafford 4
- Fireworks as transfer deadline passes in Germany: Draxler to Wolfsburg, Januzaj to Dortmund 2
- Premier League Playback: It’s time to change the Transfer Window rules 3