Skip to content

Landon Donovan: For the man he’s become, it’s time to move on

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.

Latest Posts
  1. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Valencia win in top-four battle; Juventus grow title lead to 7

    Jan 25, 2015, 6:30 PM EST

    Daniel Parejo, Valencia CF Daniel Parejo, Valencia CF

    There’s a new top-four team in Spain, while little has changed in Italy, both for good and bad.

  2. Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Congo, Equatorial Guinea victorious in group finales, advance

    Jan 25, 2015, 4:28 PM EST

    Javier Balboa, Equatorial Guinea Javier Balboa, Equatorial Guinea

    Two of eight quarterfinals places were clinched on Sunday as the late drama continues at AFCON 2015.

  3. Wenger confirms move for Brazilian defender is “very, very close”

    Jan 25, 2015, 2:59 PM EST

    Paulista Getty Images

    A work permit still must be obtained, but Arsenal is on the cusp of securing some defensive depth.

  4. Alexandre Lacazette injured at the worst possible time

    Jan 25, 2015, 2:07 PM EST

    Lacazette Getty Images

    With 10 goals in his last six games, all of that is coming to a screeching halt.

  5. FA Cup Roundup: Upsets halted with West Ham, Villa, Arsenal wins

    Jan 25, 2015, 12:54 PM EST

    Rosicky Getty Images

    After yesterday’s FA Cup craziness, things were restored to normal today as all three Premier League sides went through, despite some nervy moments.

  6. Standard Liege fans get “traitor” Steven Defour sent off

    Jan 25, 2015, 11:43 AM EST

    Defour Getty Images

    Anderlecht fans responded to their former player – now with their arch rivals – in a very mean way. Defour reacted accordingly.

  7. Pogba scores again, four in four, and Juventus keeps on churning

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:46 AM EST

    Pogba Getty Images

    Four goals in his last four games has Paul Pogba on top of the world.

  8. Aston Villa announces Fabian Delph extension before FA Cup match

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:16 AM EST

    Delph Getty Images

    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.

  9. Report: Roma stalling on Salah could allow others to pounce

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:23 AM EST

    Salah Getty Images

    Mohamed Salah just needed signatures to make him a Roma player, but now the Italian club could be headed in a different direction.

  10. Rodgers says Balotelli needs to vastly improve before playing for Liverpool

    Jan 25, 2015, 7:52 AM EST

    Balotelli Getty Images

    Which is Balotelli and which is the practice dummy? It sounds like it’s harder for Brendan Rodgers to tell every day.

  11. Radamel Falcao’s agent: I wish Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge, not Louis van Gaal

    Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST

    Radamel Falcao & Louis van Gaal, Manchester United Radamel Falcao & Louis van Gaal, Manchester United

    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.”

  12. Italy head coach Antonio Conte supports Sebastian Giovinco’s move to MLS

    Jan 24, 2015, 8:45 PM EST

    Antonio Conte & Sebastian Giovinco, Juventus Antonio Conte & Sebastian Giovinco, Juventus

    If MLS is good enough for Italian national teamers, why isn’t it good enough for U.S. national teamers?

  13. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Barcelona, Madrid clubs win; AC Milan continue to free fall

    Jan 24, 2015, 7:45 PM EST

    Lionel Messi and Neymar, FC Barcelona Getty Images

    Barcelona were stunning as they put a half-dozen past Elche, while Real stumbled to victory. Elsewhere, AC Milan are very bad.

  14. USMNT U-20s defeat El Salvador, 2-0, qualify for 2015 U-20 World Cup

    Jan 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EST

    FIFA U20 World Cup Trophy Tour Auckland Getty Images

    The Baby Yanks are headed back to the Big Dance this summer.

  15. Sunday’s FA Cup preview: Arsenal, West Ham hope to avoid fate similar to other PL sides

    Jan 24, 2015, 5:45 PM EST

    FA Cup trophy FA Cup trophy

    A number of PL giants fell on Saturday, leaving Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa shaking in their boots.

  16. Jurgen Klinsmann names 23-man roster for USMNT friendlies vs. Chile, Panama

    Jan 24, 2015, 4:54 PM EST

    Jurgen Klinsmann & DeAndre Yedlin, USMNT Getty Images

    The squad is set for the first games of 2015, following a late addition and a number of cuts.

  17. Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Ivory Coast, Cameroon in 1-1 draws as Group D up for grabs

    Jan 24, 2015, 4:20 PM EST

    Bakary Sako, Mali Bakary Sako, Mali

    After four games played, absolutely nothing separates any of the four teams in Group D. Nothing.

  18. Mourinho on loss: “Me and the players must feel ashamed”

    Jan 24, 2015, 3:23 PM EST

    Chelsea v Bradford City - FA Cup Fourth Round Getty Images

    “Frustration is not the right word, embarrassed would be more appropriate.”

  19. Transfer rumor roundup: Cisse to China, Paulista to Arsenal official?

    Jan 24, 2015, 2:51 PM EST

    Newcastle United v Everton - Premier League Getty Images

    Catch up on all the latest rumors and gossip, right here.

  20. Ronaldo sees red as Bale saves Real

    Jan 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EST

    ron.red Getty Images

    Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off for Real Madrid, but Gareth Bale saved three points with a late-game penalty.

Featured video

Top five Premier League goals: Week 22