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.
May 28, 2015, 12:53 AM EDT
Juninho’s early PK is all the Galaxy need, as they climb to 4th in the Western Conference. RSL, meanwhile, are on the outside looking in.
May 28, 2015, 12:43 AM EDT
17 MLS teams will entire this year’s US Open Cup in the 4th round. On Wednesday, they learned who they’ll face.
May 28, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
Wins in May don’t get much more “must-win” than this one. PDX tops the East’s top team.
May 27, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
According to his agent, Balotelli is going nowhere this summer. He’ll stay and fight for his place next season.
May 27, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
11 current and former officials from around the world have been provisionally banned from all football-related activities.
May 27, 2015, 5:23 PM EDT
Rog and Davo relive the Premier League’s season finale, including squeaky bum time at the bottom of the table.
May 27, 2015, 4:42 PM EDT
It was a thrilling Europa League final. Sevilla are back-to-back Europa League champions, and into next year’s Champions League.
May 27, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT
Sergio Aguero was the Premier League’s top goalscorer this season, but was he the best attacker in the league? He has plenty of competition.
May 27, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT
After leading the Black Cats to Premier League safety, “The Little General” has announced he won’t return to the Stadium of Light next season.
May 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Goal scorers, goal creators, ball winners, possession destroyers — the list of top-10 midfielders has a little bit of everything.
May 27, 2015, 2:43 PM EDT
“Today’s events are a disaster for FIFA and tarnish the image of football as a whole. “
May 27, 2015, 2:17 PM EDT
The most controversial figure in world soccer has broken his silence.
May 27, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
If Aston Villa wants any shot at beating Arsenal in the FA Cup final this Saturday, Christian Benteke must come up big.
May 27, 2015, 1:06 PM EDT
“This really is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing FIFA a red card.”
May 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
With the Hoops heading down to the Championship, Queens Park Rangers will have a completely new look next season.
May 27, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
They say defense wins championships, so expect to see quite a bit of Chelsea blue on this list.
May 27, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT
Atsu spent this season on loan at Everton, and it looks like the Ghanaian will be headed south to the Premier League’s newest club.
May 27, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Sepp Blatter has served as president for 17 years and is expected to easily win reelection.
May 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Let’s take a walk through the six yard box with the Premier League’s 10 best ‘keepers for 2014-15.
May 27, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
A press conference is scheduled to be held at 10:30 a.m. ET from the U.S. Department of Justice.
- FIFA ethics committee bans 11 current, former officials from all football-related activities 3
- UEFA calls for postponement of FIFA presidential election, threatens to boycott congress 5
- FIFA president Sepp Blatter releases first statement since overnight arrests 11
- Three things we learned from the US Department of Justice news conference on the FIFA investigation 6
- FIFA presidential elections will go on Friday despite arrests 6
- FBI, US Department of Justice issues damning statement on FIFA, details corruption investigation 8