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.
Jan 25, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
There’s a new top-four team in Spain, while little has changed in Italy, both for good and bad.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:28 PM EST
Two of eight quarterfinals places were clinched on Sunday as the late drama continues at AFCON 2015.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:59 PM EST
A work permit still must be obtained, but Arsenal is on the cusp of securing some defensive depth.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:07 PM EST
With 10 goals in his last six games, all of that is coming to a screeching halt.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:54 PM EST
After yesterday’s FA Cup craziness, things were restored to normal today as all three Premier League sides went through, despite some nervy moments.
Jan 25, 2015, 11:43 AM EST
Anderlecht fans responded to their former player – now with their arch rivals – in a very mean way. Defour reacted accordingly.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:46 AM EST
Four goals in his last four games has Paul Pogba on top of the world.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:16 AM EST
Aston Villa secured the services of midfielder Fabian Delph, and while that should have been an exciting announcement, the club blew it up a little too much and it fell flat on its face.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:23 AM EST
Mohamed Salah just needed signatures to make him a Roma player, but now the Italian club could be headed in a different direction.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:52 AM EST
Which is Balotelli and which is the practice dummy? It sounds like it’s harder for Brendan Rodgers to tell every day.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
The bitterness is flowing freely from Falcao’s agent as he plots the Colombian striker’s next move to a “world’s best-seven team.”
Jan 24, 2015, 8:45 PM EST
If MLS is good enough for Italian national teamers, why isn’t it good enough for U.S. national teamers?
Jan 24, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
Barcelona were stunning as they put a half-dozen past Elche, while Real stumbled to victory. Elsewhere, AC Milan are very bad.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EST
The Baby Yanks are headed back to the Big Dance this summer.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
A number of PL giants fell on Saturday, leaving Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa shaking in their boots.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:54 PM EST
The squad is set for the first games of 2015, following a late addition and a number of cuts.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:20 PM EST
After four games played, absolutely nothing separates any of the four teams in Group D. Nothing.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:23 PM EST
“Frustration is not the right word, embarrassed would be more appropriate.”
Jan 24, 2015, 2:51 PM EST
Catch up on all the latest rumors and gossip, right here.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EST
Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off for Real Madrid, but Gareth Bale saved three points with a late-game penalty.
- Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Congo, Equatorial Guinea victorious in group finales, advance 0
- FA Cup Roundup: Upsets halted with West Ham, Villa, Arsenal wins 1
- Rodgers says Balotelli needs to vastly improve before playing for Liverpool 1
- Italy head coach Antonio Conte supports Sebastian Giovinco’s move to MLS 9
- USMNT U-20s defeat El Salvador, 2-0, qualify for 2015 U-20 World Cup 2
- Jurgen Klinsmann names 23-man roster for USMNT friendlies vs. Chile, Panama 0