5614_isi_donovanlandon_usmntmj040214258 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
On the Record

Here's What They're Saying About Landon Donovan

The most celebrated player in U.S. soccer history is also a polarizing figure, in part because he took a sabbatical weeks before the final round of World Cup qualification began.
BY Laura Greene Posted
May 06, 2014
12:54 PM
HE HAS BEEN TO THREE World Cups, he’s the United States’ all-time leading goalscorer and the joint top scorer in Major League Soccer history. If he makes Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad for Brazil 2014 it is likely to be his last World Cup.

So what do fans, coaches, and pundits really think of Landon Donovan? We decided to take a closer look.

It caused some shock when the Los Angeles Galaxy forward, 32, announced that he would be taking a break from football 18 months ago, with exhaustion playing a major factor in his decision to bid a brief farewell to the game.

“Your body's going to tell you it's time to take a break and that's what my body is telling me this year, there's no question,” Donovan told ESPN on October 31, 2012. “I don't want to feel that way. I want to do it because I'm enjoying it and loving it. So I need time where I can just pause, and breathe and rest, let my body heal, let my mind refresh, and I think at that point, I'll be excited to play again."

The feedback was, as you’d imagine, mixed. TheBishop39, a commenter on ESPNFC.com, represented the extreme negative side of the discussion.

Do me a favor and get a real job Donavan [sic] where you have to take a bus to a train—work 10 hours—then take a train to a bus and get home at 9pm and do it all over again every day... let me know how your boss reacts to your "body telling you it's time for a break" -- you're a prima donna and an embarrassment. I actually liked him before this 13 year old girl tirade. Oh well!

Others were a little more understanding. As Kalluchi commented on November 1, “The man is burnt out. He needs a few months away from the game. He will be back."

Kingston_12 added this:
“So, for everyone calling him out on this, have you not paid any attention to LD over the last decade? This is who the dude is. 100% honesty, all the time, even if he's going to get crapped on for it. He's never been someone in the Dempsey mold who's going to fight tooth and nail and grind it out at all costs, it's just not his personality. The bottom line is that when he's on and motivated, Donovan is still the best wide option the US has and is a game changer. If taking a break for a while means he regains his health and motivation, let him take the time off.”

Fresh from winning the MLS Cup with LA Galaxy on December 1, 2012—his fifth as a player and his third with the Galaxy—Donovan hung up his boots, albeit temporarily.

A three-month rest period ensued and it was a controversial move. Donovan ended up missing out on the first month of LA Galaxy’s season and the United States’ first six World Cup Qualifiers of 2013.

On February 17, Galaxy General Manager and Head Coach Bruce Arena told lagalaxy.com: “We understand this arrangement is not ideal, but we are confident it will allow Landon the time he needs to be both mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming season. We remain focused on our preparation for the start of the 2013 season and look forward to Landon rejoining us next month.”

Three days later, during a Q&A session with students at the University of Southern California, FIFA’s Best Young Player of the 2002 World Cup announced that he would be traveling to Cambodia.

On February 22, 2013, site user Ethan Clarke typed this on Socceramerica.com:

This guy is a real nut! The US team should just part ways with him now. Does he realize he cannot play forever. This should be his time and he should take advantage of that. He will have plenty of time to go to Cambodia after he is done playing. I am 40 something and would give anything to go back in time. He really has no idea what he is giving up. Suck it up and get back on the field or go away! Either way there is another LD out there waiting his turn. BTW—why is this not an honor to him to play for the National Team. If he gives it up, dont give it back. Another one of those, you dont appreciate it until it is gone.

Eddie Rockwell took a different view: “He's one of only four players that have been in MLS since 2001, and the only one that has had four off-season stints abroad and constant MNT duty mixed in. Give the guy a break, he's tired. Let him get some rest/time off and come back refreshed and ready to go...”

Charles Davenport added: “We are not machines; We cannot do great things without enthusiasm, if our hearts are not involved. With heart and desire, the impossible becomes possible. I await Mr. Donovan's return.”

Elsewhere, on MLSSoccer.com, Joshua Brigman wrote on February 27: “He may be done with his spirit quest in the desert and his walkabout in the outback. Now he is gaining eastern mysticism playing soccer barefoot in the jungles of Cambodia. He is trying to become the Most Interesting Footballer in the World!”

A little under a month later and with the MLS season already underway, Donovan resumed training with the Galaxy on March 25, 2013.

Upon his return, Donovan was asked about his thoughts on getting back into Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. side: “If I can go back in with the national team and they ask me to play goalie, then I’ll play goalie,” Donovan told a conference call of reporters (via The New York Times) on March 28.

“My job now is to make it so that he wants me back. He has not said anything—he hasn’t said he doesn’t want me to be part of it. He has said the door is open and once I’m playing again, he’ll evaluate me like any other player, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

On March 30, Donovan came on for the Galaxy as a substitute against Toronto FC for 30 minutes in 2-2 draw. Over the course of the next 14 games, Donovan appeared 12 times—scoring three goals and registering four assists.

Omitted from friendlies against Belgium and Germany and World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras, it looked like Donovan’s self-imposed absence may have done long-term damage to his relations with the U.S. national team. However, on May 16, Klinsmann told ESPN:

“I think Landon is catching up. We're all excited that he has decided to continue to play. That was the first major answer that we needed to get, and now he's just working himself back into shape and back into a playing rhythm. He will get sharper and more confident with every game he's going to play now. So we'll watch that, we'll monitor that and we'll decide then when to bring him back into our picture.

"It's not going to be for these upcoming games," Klinsmann added, "but maybe later on we'll definitely expect him back in the team."

Comments that followed the U.S. coach’s interview were wide-ranging. As skim 172 wrote, “I'm not gonna slag a guy off for taking a break, but let's not swing too far the other way—Donovan doesn't deserve to be a villain, but he's hardly the hero of this story. It was a business decision, so we can't fault him for that, but we shouldn't credit him, either. Fans feel disappointed with him because they felt he left them—which, in a strict sense, he did. He doesn't deserve the ire he's getting, but he did, in fact, leave the team.”

With ntesh adding on May 17, “Im glad that Klinns has left donovan out. He has no business being anywhere near the national team at the moment given his "mental fiasco" in which he had to take an indefinite break from soccer.”

Barcelona-Rulez typed, “O come on Donovan has carried American soccer on his back for over a decade, anyone would need a brake after that. He deserved every minute of it.”

Vanillagorilla86, commented, “It's simple. There is just no way that the US team is better off without Landon then they are with him. If you were to tell me that it is better to leave him off the roster so that we can bring 5 goalkeepers with us I will tell you, you are insane.”

Craigm26 added, “Solid omission. Klinnsman logic is sound. Donovan should be in form in a few months and probably will show for Gold Cup. We're all rooting for the best possible XI on the pitch so, not a big deal.”

Donovan finally worked his way back into Klinsmann’s plans for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup and it was off for international duty in July. The Ontario, Calif., native went on to win his fifth Gold Cup with the United States, finishing the tournament with five goals and seven assists.

Reflecting on Donovan’s successful return to the fold on July 27, Klinsmann told Goal.com, “We had honest conversations about it and I told him, 'I want the best Landon ever. I'm not happy with anything less.’”

Donovan shared his own thoughts with Goal.com last May: “No one is entitled to anything in this game. That's become very apparent to me. I think for a lot of years, I got the benefit of the doubt. If I wasn't playing well, I'd still get called in. It's a nice feeling to have to earn it.”

After the Gold Cup, Donovan found himself in a rich vein of form, announcing his return to MLS with a hat-trick against FC Dallas followed by four more goals and three assists before the playoffs, in which he registered a further two goals and four assists.

At the time, rumors in the United Kingdom were linking Donovan with a move back to Everton—the Premier League club that he had two loan spells with in 2010 and 2012. This speculation garnered nothing but positive support from fans of the Merseyside club. As seen on Toffeeweb on August 5, 2013:

Barry Rathbone: “Always have a soft spot for this lad. When we were at our robotic worst he brought light to those grim days, his pace, technique and whole "can do" attitude plus his genuine love of the club transformed each season he was here. Have him back in a heartbeat—can't have too many proper footballers.”

Jay Harris was in agreement, “They say class is permanent and this boy is class. Would be worth it just to light the dressing room up and enhance our image in the US.”

However, in August a new contract at the StubHub Center was in the offing, with Donovan telling lagalaxy.com, “This organization has always treated me with the utmost respect and I feel truly blessed that I am able to continue playing here. The opportunity to play with the team I love and work to win championships, in front of wonderful fans while also being close to my family, is literally a dream come true.”

On September 5, Galaxy President Chris Klein told the Los Angeles Times: “The one thing about Landon is he knows what he needs. For all the heat that he took for [the break], he said to me, 'Listen, if I get this and I come back and I'm focused, I'll be better than I ever was.' I think we're starting to see the beginning of that. He's in a place, personally, that I've never seen him in before."

Now in his 14th MLS campaign, Donovan has played every minute of every league game for the Los Angeles Galaxy so far this season. However, he has not scored a league goal since October 10, 2013. The one strike that will make him the league’s highest-ever goalscorer continues to elude him, and he is currently stuck on 134 goals, a record he shares with Jeff Cunningham.

Donovan has also featured in three friendlies for the U.S. of late—against Guatemala, South Korea, and Mexico, with two goals scored against Guatemala on July 6.

Donovan can already boast a host of personal records, but will he be able to add to his legacy with the U.S. in Brazil this summer? He's expected to make the team, but nothing is guaranteed at this point. For Donovan, perhaps other matters are just as important. As he told MLSSoccer.com on March 3, 2014:

I’ve said this a million times: When I’m on my deathbed, I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, what a legacy I’ve left.’ I’m going to say, ‘Hopefully, I was a great brother, I was a great teammate, I was a great son, maybe a great father, a great uncle.’ Those are the things that matter to me.

What do you think of Laura Greene's On the Record series? And how do you feel about Landon Donovan's prospects for Brazil? Share your thoughts below.

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