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Landon Donovan and Knowing When to Leave

August 7th, 2014 · 2 Comments · Brazil 2014, Football, Landon Donovan, soccer, World Cup

I didn’t think The End would come so quickly.

No, Landon Donovan did not play at the World Cup in Brazil. No, he has not had a particularly productive Major League Soccer season.

Yes, he is 32, which is not young for an attacking player in the modern game. Yes, he has been carrying injuries for most of the past few years. And yes, that “break” from the game in late 2013 and early 2014 apparently was more “hint I’m nearly done” than “recharging for my return”.

But when we look at the timing of Donovan’s retirement, which he confirmed today via Facebook, ahead of a press conference at the club’s offices in Carson … well, it makes a lot of sense.

In fact, the timing could hardly be better.

Consider:

–He scored the winning goal for the Major League Soccer all-stars in their 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich, on Wednesday.

Let’s just say Landon had some issues with German football.

Bayer Leverkusen gave him his first contract but did an awful job of helping a 17-year-old kid adjust to his new surroundings, leading to him twice leaving the team to return to MLS. Then he spent a loan period with Bayern in 2009, and despite playing fairly well (he thought) he was told he was too old (almost 27, at the time) to be of interest to the club. That was Franz Beckenbauer who said that. Then, Jurgen Klinsmann, the Bayern coach back then and now the U.S. national coach, left him off the Brazil 2014 team.

So, yeah, scoring the game-winner against Germany’s best side … that’s a good way to end your career against foreign clubs.

–In May, he set the MLS regular-season scoring record with his 135th goal, and now has 138.

–Just as his first international goal was against Mexico, in a 2-0 victory at the Coliseum in his senior debut, in October of 2000, his final goal, his 57th, also was against Mexico, in a World Cup qualifier in September 2013.

Mexico was always important in Donovan’s career. He was particularly loathed by Mexico fans for much of his career, which included the infamously silly “urinating in the bushes” episode in Guadalajara, I believe it was, to the eventual respect Mexican fans showed him. Six of his 57 goals came against the U.S. team’s greatest rival.

–His appearance in the All-Star Game was a record 14th, and his goal was a record sixth in the competition.

And, now, what is there left to do?

With Klinsmann still the U.S. coach, Donovan us unlikely to be called back in to the national team, and playing at Russia 2018, when he would be 36, was never very likely. Anyway, his five World Cup goals are the most by an American.

Also, MLS, which earlier in his career seemed anything but a sure success, seems on very strong footing now. The league’s 20th and 21st franchises begin play next season. The league doesn’t need him, as it once did, to be The Face of the league.

On a physical level, it seems to be time, too.

At his best, Donovan’s game was very much speed-based. Check the video of all 57 of his international goals.

He got to balls before others did. He often outran defenders to score. A batch of penalty kicks. Not many screaming rockets. Not many free kicks. Lots of tap-ins. Lots of “being in the right place” which, of course, is a skill in itself. (The winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup being the ultimate example of that.)

But athletes begin to lose their speed in their late 20s, and as canny as Donovan is, it’s not like he’s some tall, Miroslav Klose type of forward who can score headers until he is 36.

Donovan’s four goals in 17 MLS matches this season … told him something.

This is a very nice way to handle it. Let the club, and fans, know ahead of time. He has another two months, 11 games, and then whatever the Galaxy does in the MLS playoffs (his sixth title?), and then he is done with the game.

A few more thoughts.

–The best thing about Landon Donovan? His decency. He treated people like a regular guy would treat people.

–His thoughtfulness. From the start, he had interests outside soccer. His world is far wider than the soccer pitch.

–His honesty. He found it hard to lie, even when it would help him. The truth was what you got from him, and that is exceeding rare.

And his greatest goal, out of all those he has scored?

I nominate the goal against Slovenia (go to the 2:35 mark) in the second group game of the 2010 World Cup. Slovenia led 2-0, and if the Slovenes had won that game, the U.S.’s chances of getting out of the group would have been slim. Slovenia would have had 6 points, England 2, the U.S. 1 and Algeria 1. A U.S. victory over Algeria might not have been enough, and that would have made for consecutive out-at-the-group-stage World Cups for the U.S., which would have been bad for the national team as well as for Landon, those teams’ best player. But that goal, with its high degree of difficulty (from an acute angle), buried in the roof of the net, and sparking the comeback … that was his greatest moment.

I am sure he thought he might have another moment like it, in Brazil, but it didn’t happen.

Given that, and his age, and his skills ebbing … like so much else in his soccer career, Landon Donovan has the timing just right.

We may learn more about his future at the press conference that will start soon in Carson.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Aug 7, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Have to admit I teared up at the news that Landon is retiring, even though I think it is the right decision. Like many others, I have watched him play since he was a teenager and he truly has had an outstanding career. Even the often cynical and sarcastic Bruce Arena was visibly moved by the news. Best wishes to Landon in all his future endeavors and thanks for the memories.

  • 2 James // Aug 8, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Surprised and yet not surprised at the news he’s retiring. He is going to be very much missed. With him on the field, especially with the USMNT, it was like ‘anything can happen day’, every time he suited up.

    I doubt we’ll see another like him in our lifetimes.

    And I, too, got a little verklempt. Especially when Arena broke down. That says a lot about Donovan if he can affect Arena that way.

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