Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
Landon Donovan stunned the American soccer public on Thursday when he announced that his 16th season in professional soccer would be his last.
Following training on Thursday morning, Donovan held a press conference along with LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, president Chris Klein, and AEG CEO Dan Beckerman to explain his decision. Donovan had flirted with retirement during his oft-discussed sabbatical in early 2013, but admitted that after starting the 2013 season strong and putting in MVP-worthy performances at the Gold Cup, he felt good about continuing his career.
Donovan said that while he had been excited to start the season ahead of potentially playing in the World Cup, recently his passion for the game had taken a dip, and his gut was telling him it was time to walk away.
“In the last few weeks, I started thinking a lot about (retirement) again, I was talking to my family quite a bit about it, and my gut just told me it was the right time,” Donovan said. “After a lot of conversations, some pleasant and some not so pleasant, with friends, family, people I respect and admire, I felt that it was the right thing to do.”
The 32-year-old American star revealed that he ultimately made the decision prior to the Galaxy’s 3-0 thrashing of the Seattle Sounders on July 28, and claimed that since he made the decision, it was like a “weight had been lifted” off his shoulders.
“I think for the last few years I haven’t had the same passion that I had previously in my career,” Donovan said. “To some extent I had felt obligated to keep playing. When that obligation part goes away, I realized that it was just relieving and I could just enjoy it as a player again, almost as a kid again. I know it sounds simple and easy to say but it was a big thing to me.
“Just even letting Chris (Klein) and Dan (Beckerman) know initially, letting Bruce (Arena) know, letting other people know made me feel better because I almost felt like I was holding onto this secret. 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 of years of mediocrity and not being passionate about it.”
Since the announcement, tributes from across the nation have flowed into Los Angeles, from fellow teammates, players around the league, coaches, including U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and executives in the league and U.S. Soccer.
However, arguably the most touching moment of the day came from Arena, who couldn’t hold back tears when asked about Donovan’s legacy and impact on Arena himself.
“There are people in our lives who make a difference, and he has as a player and as a person,” Arena said in an interview at the StubHub Center. “I’ve seen him as a young kid and now I see him as a man and see him at the end of a career, which is unbelievably ironic that I’ve seen him as a baby in the sport and now as a man that’s leaving. To see the joy he had today and also witness the suffering he’s experienced throughout his career, to see that range of emotions, and now to see he’s happy again, its emotional to me.”
When asked about what’s in store for the future, Donovan joked that he didn’t see himself as a coach in the future, at least for the first team, but did want to work with the Galaxy academy in some capacity to help impact the next generation of players.
Mostly, Donovan said that he was just looking forward to being with friends, family, his girlfriend, and having the freedom to do whatever he wants, independent of how it would affect his soccer career.
“It gets me excited thinking about (the future),” Donovan said. “A lot of people think we show up on Saturday night and play the game and then we go home and sit around all week and do nothing. It’s the furthest thing from the truth.”
“For 16 years, almost every decision I’ve made, every hour of every day, has revolved around ‘how is this going to prepare me for tomorrow’s training session or tomorrow’s game.’ That weighs on you after a while so just having the freedom to do whatever you want is very exciting to me and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Donovan’s career accomplishments extend further than just a page on a paper or a list on a website. From appearing in three World Cups, scoring the most-ever goals and recording the most assists in USMNT history, to becoming the MLS all-time leading goalscorer, Donovan’s legacy will be etched both in the record books as well as in the minds of an entire generation who grew up watching him.
Last Wednesday, Donovan played in his 14th, and now last, MLS All-Star Game. Though he only played 25 minutes, Donovan scored the game-winning goal in the 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich and took home MVP honors for the second time in his career.
“All I could think of (when I scored) was ‘if only everybody knew’,” Donovan said. “It was perfect. It was nice. The last 24 hours have been pretty hectic, pretty crazy, but I am pretty happy that that game ended that way and I want to make sure (Friday’s) game and the rest of the season end similarly.”
Donovan and the Galaxy return to the field on Friday when they face the San Jose Earthquakes at the StubHub Center.