(Writer’s note: Credit for the awesome cover photo goes to Robert Canales of Clubs & Glory. Be sure to check them out on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. They have many great designs, and will be selling shirts in the future!)
Saying goodbye is never easy. Whether it’s your significant other who is travelling for their job, or the passing of a loved one – saying goodbye hurts. And in the beautiful game, it hurts even more.
Thankfully we still have at least 15 more games in Major League Soccer (excluding playoffs) on the Landon Donovan Farewell Tour™, and hopefully another appearance or two with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
If you are an American soccer fan born in the 90s (even early-2000s) or earlier, Landon Donovan played a major role in your experience as a fan whether you realize it or not. When Donovan burst on to the scene in 1999 after signing with the IMG Academy, he then signed a six-year deal with German club Bayer Leverkusen. After failing to get things going in Germany, he was loaned back to the United States in 2001, where he’d spent much of his time training with the U-17 National Team.
He was a member of the San Jose Earthquakes from 2001-2004, recording 32 goals and 29 assists in 87 appearances. During his time with the Earthquakes, he led them to MLS Cup titles in 2001 and 2003.
After the 2004 MLS season, Donovan went back to Leverkusen with a hopeful mentality. After playing just seven games (two starts) for Leverkusen, Donovan stated his wishes to return stateside. Earthquakes then-GM Alexi Lalas traded Donovan’s rights after his loan spell with the Earthquakes. When Donovan states his intentions of returning, the LA Galaxy, Donovan’s hometown team, traded away leading scorer Carlos Ruiz to FC Dallas in order to get the top spot on the MLS Allocation Order. Donovan went on to write a once-in-a-lifetime legacy with the LA Galaxy, which he is currently in the process of completing the final chapter.
As of August 8th, 2014 (before their game against – how fitting – the San Jose Earthquakes), Donovan is the all-time leading goalscorer in MLS history with 138 goals. He currently sits 11 assists shy of becoming the all-time sole-leader in that category with 124 assists.
He has won five MLS Cups – two previously mentioned with San Jose (2001 & 2003) and three with LA (2005, 2011, & 2012). He holds the MLS record for playoff goals (22), MLS Cup MVPs (2), and All-Star Game appearances (14 and two All-Star Game MVP awards to go with it). Oh yeah, and after his game-winner against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night at the All-Star game, Donovan became the all-time leading goalscorer in MLS All-Star Game history (6 goals).
Donovan won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2005 as a member of the Galaxy, as well as Supporters Shields’ in 2010 and 2011. As far as the U.S. Men’s National Team is concerned, he holds the record for goals (57), assists (58), and World Cup goals (5). He helped the U.S. win the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2013.
The stats don’t lie, but the impact that Landon Donovan had on American Soccer reached beyond the numbers. Many were expecting him to be the first big-name American player to go to Europe and make a name for himself. Instead, Donovan was a pioneer for American soccer, so to speak. Donovan pushed boundaries. The route to his legacy was unorthodox. He failed – a lot.
He failed with top teams in Germany (Leverkusen and Bayern Munich). He even failed with the U.S. Men’s National Team, most notably this year when he did not make the roster for Brazil. But with all of those failures came great successes.
After winning the Golden Ball at the U-17 World Cup in 1999, he was selected to the All-World Cup team in 2002, and given Young Player of the Tournament honors at that World Cup. After an unsuccessful World Cup run in 2006, Donovan followed it up in 2010 with one of the most prolific goals in U.S. Men’s National Team history – a stoppage time winner against Algeria to send the U.S. through to the knockout rounds.
In 2001, Donovan played in a league that was failing. MLS was in dire straits. They were being lowered into the dirt to push daisies up from the ground for the remainder of eternity, but Landon helped MLS rise from their uncovered grave. He brought a personality that the league needed.
We will never forget the 2001 All-Star game when Donovan, frosted hair tips and all, scored and ripped off his shirt to reveal a sports bra – a tribute to Brandi Chastain. With the arrival of David Beckham to LA in 2007, it looked to be a move that would be a clash of egos, but instead sent MLS in to a new era.
Donovan made Beckham the captain, they won back-to-back MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012, and they painted a portrait for teams to follow in the United States. That is apparent now with the arrivals of European talents such as Frank Lampard, David Villa, Thierry Henry, Robby Keane, and Jermaine Defoe.
Landon Donovan sprung the MLS forward with his arrival in 2001, and again during the Beckham era, and now he is springing it forward again with the announcement of his retirement. Donovan’s career is a sign to guys like Wil Trapp and Perry Kitchen that they don’t have to live the European dream in order to become a United States soccer legend.
The news of Donovan’s retirement was a shocking move to practically everyone. Based Twellman™ broke the news, which, to Donovan’s chagrin, was apparently announced before Donovan got the chance to break the news to some of his teammates. Many question why Donovan would do this at the age of 32.
As much as I want to see Landon stick around for as long as possible, he has stated that he doesn’t have that burning desire that once fueled him.
In his press conference on Thursday afternoon, he stated “For the last few years, I haven’t had the same passion that I had previously in my career, and to some extent I had felt obligated to keep playing,” he said. “And so when that obligation goes away, I realized it was just relieving, and I could just enjoy it as a player again, almost as a kid again. … It’s allowed me now to really enjoy myself, and that’s what I want. I’d rather have three or four months of really playing well and enjoying myself than a couple years of mediocrity and not being passionate about it.”
At the end of the day, he is practically retiring in an anti-Brett Favre fashion. Landon is choosing happiness, and that is something that we should all appreciate and respect him for.
Some may wonder: what’s next? Well, as I stated at the beginning, Donovan has at least 15 MLS games left, plus the playoffs (LA currently sit 3rd in the West, trailing Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake). As Soccer Yanks’ very own Cole White (@pcolewhite) wrote last week in The Four Year Frenzy Part 1, the U.S. Men’s National Team has two friendlies coming up in September, and two other official FIFA breaks in October and November. With the end of the MLS season in October, and playoffs in November, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see Donovan play for the U.S. during either of those breaks, so the break in September may be his best bet to say farewell to the National Team fans.
It is also entirely possible that he may never wear the red, white, and blue ever again as a player. For the sake of the fans, and the respect that Donovan’s career merits, I hope that whatever bad blood exists between Donovan and U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann can be looked past in order to give Landon the proper send-off that his National Team career deserves.
After this season, I could see Donovan making a Dexter Morgan-esque exit (with the exception of the whole SPOILER ALERT ‘killing your sister’ part), riding off in to the sunset and not hearing from him for a while.
The more likely route is coaching and/or analyzing. He provided some, uhh, interesting commentary for ESPN during the 2014 World Cup and he stated in his press conference on Thursday that he wants to work with kids. We could always be thrown in a major loop when Klinsmann gives Donovan the coaching duties of the U-23 team at the 2016 Olympics, though that seems nearly impossible.
Regardless of the route that Donovan takes in his retirement, the impact he made on American soccer will never be forgotten. He left a footprint that can never be covered up, and will forever have the support of American soccer fans – regardless of MLS club affiliation. #ThanksLD.