Send us a message

Interested in being a part of the team? Get in touch with us today.

A GFT Discussion on Landon Donovan

 Posted by on August 13, 2014 at 4:26 pm  Blogs/Media, Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS
Aug 132014

A week ago today, Landon Donovan announced that he would be retiring from soccer and the Los Angeles Galaxy. As the soccer world was coming to grips with this announcement, Global Football Today’s Adam Uthe and Sean Maslin (a.k.a. me) exchanged their thoughts over a series of emails and talked at length about his place in U.S. Soccer, MLS, and where he stands among the game’s greats. 

Adam Uthe

So Landon Donovan is going to retire at the end of the current MLS season at the age of 32.

Pretty simple really: What’s your initial reaction?


Sean Maslin

So I think there are three ways to look at it.

The first is: was it too early, too late, or just right on time? It is such an inexact science. When should a player retire. Physically he looks like he is still really on form or at least on form for a 32 year old. Mentally the guy seems drained. Over the past two years he just seems like he does not have the same fire or ambition that he had earlier in his career. The trip to Cambodia, the comments before the World Cup, all of it leads me to believe that he was just sick and tired of the weight of expectations.
Now the second question I have is: is he the greatest player in MLS history? While there are players who have come in to the league with far more success than him (Klinsmann, Stoichkov, Blanco, Henry, Matthaus, Beckham to a degree) in terms of his C/V he is probably the best MLS player in league history. I was talking to Brian Sanders about this earlier: because he has been around for so long he has amassed quite an exemplary career in MLS. Goal scoring champion, multiple MVPs and league titles with various teams. I struggled to come up with other players who can match his credentials in the league. Dwayne De Rosario? Jaime Moreno? Those are the two that I could come up with.
The third question that seems to be coming up is he the greatest American Player? There seems to be some debate as to what is more valuable: playing abroad or playing at home and building the league? I think to be considered the best player in American soccer history you have to have success at home, success in Europe, and some measure of success on the international level (i.e. World Cup). The names that keep popping up in my head on this one are: Clint Dempsey (3 MLS Cup appeareances, Europa League Final,) John Harkes (F.A. Cup and I believe League Cup, MLS Cup, 1994 WC), Brian McBride (EXTREMELY underrated in my opinion,) Brad Friedel, and Tim Howard. How do you think Donovan stacks up against these people? I feel like his experience in Germany hurt him.
First of all you’re absolutely right about the inexact science of “when” the right time is. Now that Donovan has made this announcement, I’m not the least bit shocked despite the fact that he’s only 32. For all the reasons you mentioned, it felt like he was bound to walk away sooner rather than later. I can’t help but wonder if this didn’t make a lot of sense due to his “playing style”. At his peak, he was a wide midfielder whose strength was getting open on the counter a la his famous goal against Algeria. So much of his game was predicated on speed and he never really got away from that. He’s been slotted as a traditional “forward” before for both club & country, but never looked entirely comfortable. He wasn’t a particularly great playmaker nor was he known for his dribbling skills. He didn’t have a “nose for goal” and certainly wasn’t any sort of “aerial threat”. He just sort of drifted out wide and used counter attacks to score his goals. Speaking of goals, I’d love to see his goal numbers with PKs included. I have a hunch they are pretty inflated by PKs but I suppose that’s a different story for a different day…
As far as his place in MLS, I don’t think there’s any question he’s the best ever. PK-inflated numbers or not he is more synonymous with MLS than any other player. It’s not even close when you stop and think about it. His capital-M Moments (more on this in a second) for club come almost exclusively from his time with the LA Galaxy.Now the fun one: is he the greatest American ever?
Short answer: No
My PK concerns about his goal numbers extend to his time with the national team. As you mentioned, he seems burnt out at 32. His capital-M Moment is probably that goal against Algeria, but all it did was save the US from an embarrassing group stage exit, and it couldn’t save them against Ghana (his goal in that game, of course, came from the penalty spot). No, I have too many “what if” questions about Landon Donovan and his capital-M Moment to call him The Greatest.
For that my vote goes to Clint Dempsey. “Deuce” is the antithesis of everything we know (and some would say “love”) about Donovan. Ever since he left New England to challenge himself overseas, he’s been covered from head to toe in swagger. His career for both club and country is defined by his willingness to take chances in the biggest moments. His capital-M Moment would be his goal for Fulham in the Europa League knockout rounds to complete a multi-goal comeback over the course of a two leg series against the most successful team from Italy (Juventus). To not only have the courage to attempt that shot, but to actually follow through and finish it in that kind of pressure-packed situation is something Donovan can’t even come close to touching. Hell, Dempsey’s opening goal agains Ghana this summer might even be a bigger capital-M Moment than Donovan’s Algeria goal.
I’m tired of hearing how we as fans are too hard on Donovan and how much he’s misunderstood and how it’s wonderful that he’s put himself before the sport. Grow up! If you want to be the best, you have to overcome adversity. As far as I’m concerned Landon Donovan has never done that. He faced it once, early in his career in Germany, and he failed. Plain and simple. Then he proceeded to spend the rest of his career (minus his “stints” with Everton) in a league where he knew he didn’t have to challenge himself. He took the easy way out. And in the last year or so he’s spent a lot of time in the media trying to convince us that he “deserved” the easy way out. You’ll find no such talk from Dempsey. He has spent his career letting his on-field bravado do the taking for him.
I would hate to dog pile on Donovan because I think we both agree that the guy was a.) very talented and b.) the best player in MLS history but to me the lasting image that I have of Donovan is all of the interviews that he did over the summer where he just sounded so bitter.

The other image that I had was in a game earlier in the season against the Colorado Rapids and Bruce Arena’s gameplan was basically to give Donovan every shot on goal even if there are players with better chances or just more skilled (hint: his name begins with K and ends with “-eane”). It was a very odd experience and it makes me wonder if this is the approach that the Galaxy are going to take the remainder of the year. This is a very good team but Arena has been making some very odd decisions lately and feels even more persecuted than in earlier years.

Does the entitlement thing worry you as much as it does me? I thought that U.S. Soccer had stamped out this 1990’s era philosophy where everyone wins and the point of soccer is to make everyone feel happy. But it feels like it is making a comeback.
The other funny thing is this notion that he carried the league. I really hate this notion because  it assumes that soccer supporters are dumb and can’t differentiate between Donovan the club player and Donovan the national team player. Having been to enough D.C. United matches I can tell you that La Barra Brava will root for LD when he wears the red, white, and blue and boo the bejeezus out of him because he plays for the Galaxy. I get the causal supporter will go to the game to see LD. But if it is at RFK they will be going and wearing black or red or a USA jersey. And they won’t root for the Galaxy.
I think there is a distinct difference between Dempsey and Donovan that might explain the different attitudes: Donovan was raised in the Bradenton Academy whereas Dempsey had to work his way to earn a D-I (or possibly D-II I have no idea where Fordham is these days) scholarship, earn time under a very good Revolution team, then go to a Fulham squad where he was thrown to the wolves. The disturbing trend that is hopefully being changed is that most of our best players came from colleges and not from youth academies or the ODP program.

It seems like there were two crossroads to his career. The first with Bayer when, from all accounts, he had a difficult time adjusting and was put on loan to San Jose. The other is around 2010 when he was at the top of his game with both the National Team and the Galaxy and there were all sorts of rumors that he would be heading abroad.
The Bayer experience was a failure as you said. But I was wondering: let’s say Donovan stayed at Everton or went to another English squad or to another middle-tier European team (Roma, Lyon, Villarreal, etc.) How differently do you think we would view his career? I think the bad taste that is many of our mouths would not be there because I think he would succeeded.
It’s really difficult to imagine what life would be like if Donovan had made a permanent move to Everton. As you said, all his quotes from this summer have reAlly soured my opinion of him and I just can’t imagine him going through a full season in front of the English press. He was good enough, but then that’s never been his issue and it’s almost impossible to know if he actually could have put it all together for a full season abroad.
I do worry quite a bit about the pedestal Donovan has been put on. I tend to see more of his jersey out in public than Dempsey and goodness knows Donovan gets brought up before Dempsey in almost any US Soccer discussion. I would say the Development Academy in Bradenton ruined him, but his fellow graduate DaMarcus Beasley didn’t seem to have any issues and had a nice club career abroad. And for all intents and purposes he played the same position as Donovan in those early 2000s.
Now granted, Donovan has been very outspoken over his career and Dempsey has never been particularly loquacious in front of the media, but Dempsey really should be the “face” of US Soccer. If the US is going to legitimately contend for a World Cup, don’t they need more players like Dempsey and fewer like Donovan?
I actually have to disagree with you about what might have happened to Donovan had stayed abroad- I think he would have been better off. The expectations that came with being the de-facto number one, or when Beckham came in, number two guy in the league seemed to weigh on him. He did about as good of a job as any person could have done, given the situation. But being in Europe, there still seems to be this isolation where a player can learn and be developed without this horrible expectation that you have to be the savior of soccer in America.
I think had he had the chance to play in an environment a little bit farther away from the U.S. media (a.k.a. us) he might have thrived even moreso than he already has. You look at what Tim Howard was supposed to do and how overcome a relatively poor career at Manchester United and rebound and you could see where Donovan might have had a certain level anonymity to improve his craft.
So I guess the last question I am left with is: what is his legacy? The guy did give some credence to the league and help establish it, arguably for better or for worse. In ten years with the likes of Diego Fagundez, Darlington Nagbe, Perry Kitchen, Will Trapp, coming up will he be considered to still be one of the league greats?
cleardot A GFT Discussion on Landon Donovan
I think he will still be one of the greats. In fact I don’t see anyone overtaking him as the Best MLS Player anytime soon.
Look at the all-star game lineup against Bayern the other night: Thierry Henry, Obafemi Martins, Tim Cahill, Aurellian Collin, etc. Notice the lack of Americans; or I should say YOUNG Americans? The only one was DeAndre Yedlin and he wouldn’t be there if he doesn’t get the chance to play in Brazil. The “face” of your league definitely can’t be a left back either. Forget the all-star game, look at the best players on some teams around the league: Federico Higuain (Columbus), Robbie Keane (LA), “Cubo” Torres (Chivas), Bradley Wright-Phillips (RBNY). And Real Salt Lake, San Jose, and FC Dallas all just welcomed new foreign signings at end of the transfer window. Hell, newbies Orlando (Yordany Alvarez) and NYCFC (David Villa, Frank Lampard) don’t seem all that interested in the next big American thing. None of these players/new signings will ever be the “face” of MLS the way Donovan was/is, whether it’s because they’re too old or too foreign. I look up and down that list you provided as well as some additional perusing of the rosters across the league and I don’t see a player with the potential to capture the hearts of fans from all over MLS the way Donovan has.

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today, Soccerly, D.C. Soccer, Soccer Without Limits, and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

 Leave a Reply



Refresh Image


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>