One of the greatest American soccer players ever, Landon Donovan, will retire at the end of the 2014 MLS season. Donovan, who was snubbed by US Men’s National Team Manager Jurgen Klinsmann at the 2014 World Cup, won the Most Valuable Player award last night as he scored the game winning goal to beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the MLS All-Star Game.
Landon Donovan started his professional career in Germany, playing for Bayer Leverkusen’s “B” squad in 1999. After being on loan with the San Jose Earthquakes from 2001-2004 and winning two MLS Cup’s in the process, Donovan went back to Germany for Leverkusen’s main squad for a brief appearance before going back to the US with the LA Galaxy. Donovan blossomed at LA and won a third MLS Cup in his first season in LA. After a couple years at LA, he teamed up with David Beckham and later, Robbie Keane and won the MLS Cup for a 4th and 5th time in 2011 and 2012. Despite a few winter loan spells with Bayern Munich and Everton, Donovan stayed to play in America. While some felt his decision to not pursue a career in Europe was limiting his potential, his decision to stay in MLS was one that helped the League market around a well known soccer player and gave the League the kind of credibility that attracted people to come over from Europe like David Beckham and Thierry Henry and gave young, American players like Matt Besler and Graham Zusi the hope that they could stay in the primes of their careers and make a great career for themselves in MLS.
As a member of the US Men’s National Team, Donovan represented the United States in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Donovan scored the winning goal at the end of the Algeria game in the 2010 World Cup that got the US into the knockout stage. He was instrumental in taking the US to new heights like the Quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup and the 2009 Confederations Cup Final. In CONCACAF, he is a four time Gold Cup Champion. Donovan was left off the 2014 World Cup squad by Jurgen Klinsmann after focusing more on younger players. Some say he left Donovan off because he decided to take a sabbatical in Cambodia during the bulk of World Cup Qualifying. Whatever the reason, the writing was on the wall that Donovan’s best days were behind him.
Donovan will retire as the leading goalscorer in MLS and USMNT history and the USMNT leader in assists and caps. In my mind, those records, the trophies and the accolades he received in his career are secondary. The thing Landon Donovan will be remembered for is being an instrumental figure in the modern development and survival of MLS and being someone who young pro soccer players and future pro soccer players of America can strive to become and be even better than. When I played youth soccer in the 90’s, I didn’t know any soccer players to look up to and aspire to be. Now, young soccer players in this country can look at players like Landon Donovan and find someone who they can look up to and look to grab the baton and take the future of American soccer into even newer heights. That will be Landon Donovan’s legacy on American soccer.
Later tonight, 32 Flags will have a list of Landon Donovan’s 10 best moments.