Opinion: Time for Landon Donovan to realize he’s not the face of U.S. Soccer anymore
Landon Donovan needs to shut up. U.S. soccer fans need a break from you Landon; not forever, but right now it would be best for everyone if you took a little break.
It seems that whenever the USMNT is getting together to prepare for another game, Donovan is saying something to the media to keep his name in the mix, as if he wants to constantly remind us that he’s still a part of the U.S. team. Donovan of course hasn’t been a part of the USMNT for the past year and retired from international football last October.
Landon, I’d love to give you the “it’s not you, it’s us” excuse here but the God-honest truth is, it’s not us and it is actually you. You’re not a part of this team anymore and you need to go away; not forever, but at least for a little while.
Donovan of course made noise last week when the U.S. was getting ready for their big match against the Netherlands, a match they’d go on to win via a thrilling comeback from being down 3-1 in the second half. On Thursday Donovan said in an interview that he would be around longer then any U.S. coach, once again reminding everyone that Landon Donovan is still really bitter about (rightfully) being left off last year’s World Cup roster.
I’d like to be clear on something. I’m not a Landon Donovan hater. Landon Donovan is one of the reasons soccer has taken off in this country. What Donovan has done to help the game grow in this country can’t be measured and when Donovan was given a send-off match against Ecuador it was something that he more than deserved.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the way he’s acted since being left off the World Cup squad has been nothing but petty and pathetic. It’s as if he can’t accept that he’s not the face of U.S. Soccer anymore.
The truth is Donovan isn’t the face of US Soccer anymore, Jurgen Klinsmann is, and that’s a good thing. As I said before, Donovan is a big reason that soccer is as big in this country as it is and is still growing. He was the face of soccer in this country for a decade, but he couldn’t take it to the next level. I don’t mean that as a slight to him; the reality is he was a player who was getting up there in years, and it was time for someone else to take over. That someone else is Klinsmann, a man who can absolutely take U.S. Soccer to the next level.
The passing of the baton was anything but seamless however when we quickly found out that Klinsmann and Donovan had different plans. You see, Donovan had this all mapped out. He was going to take a break to recharge his batteries at the end of the 2012 MLS season, return for the second half of 2013 and get one last hurrah in the 2014 World Cup. For Klinsmann, he was rebuilding the entire style of the USMNT and how can he trust a player who bailed on his own teammates the way Donovan did?
The truth is, Donovan was snubbed from the World Cup roster because of something that he did over his entire career. He got content. Instead of having the mindset that he needed to keep fighting, not just for a starting spot but for a place on the team, Donovan figured he had done enough to warrant a spot whenever he decided he wanted one. He was content enough to leave the team in the middle of World Cup qualifying, instead of helping the team and constantly fighting for his place.
Donovan wasn’t just content on the national team, he was content in his club career as well. This has always been my biggest knock against Donovan: he never challenged himself in his career. Sure he won six MLS Cups but that’s exactly the problem. As the ‘best American player’ he was around to win six MLS Cups.
Donovan’s career started with a spell with Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. His stint there was deemed a failure, with Donovan claiming that he had trouble adapting to the German culture, but that can also be attributed to the fact that Donovan WAS SIXTEEN years old! Going to another country and culture like Germany at 16 certainly isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean that Donovan couldn’t hack it in Germany. The problem was he bailed too soon, coming home to the safety of the MLS rather than trying to break through the ranks in the Bundesliga.
Donovan again tried his luck in Germany during a 2005 loan spell with Bayern Munich (who just so happened to be managed at the time by Jurgen Klinsmann). Donovan was given quite a few looks, playing in five January friendlies as well as another five competitive matches, but at the end of the loan Bayern decided they didn’t want to extend the deal. That’s doesn’t mean that Donovan couldn’t hack it in Germany, it’s Bayern Munich! It’s the biggest club in Germany, plenty of players can’t break in to the first team there. But instead Donovan was all the more happy to go back to the MLS and win some MLS cups.
Five years later Donovan again went overseas, this time joining Everton on loan in the English Premier League. In his brief two months with the Toffees Donovan was electric, winning the fans over and winning the club’s player of the month award. Everton wanted nothing more than to bring Donovan over on a permanent basis, and Donovan even came out and said he wanted to play for Everton. Yet he still stayed with the LA Galaxy (every other footballer who has ever wanted to move to a club that wanted them has always found a way to do so, except Donovan).
It was always clear that Donovan had done everything he could for the MLS. He was the best player leading his team to title after title. Eventually the MLS had little more it could offer Donovan, and it was time for the player to move on, only he never did. Instead he chose to be the big fish in a small pond instead of challenging himself to break into a European first team. Given that from Day 1 Klinsmann spoke about wanting his players to challenge themselves, all of a sudden it’s not really a surprise that Donovan was left off the World Cup team.
U.S. Soccer is where it is today because of Landon Donovan, and the truth is what he said last week about being here longer then any one coach isn’t all that far-fetched. But here’s the thing, Landon: your role will never be that of a coach. Your role with U.S. Soccer will be as an ambassador, a role that you absolutely deserve. But right now you need to take a break because if this is how you’re going to represent us, then you’re not ready for the job. Take a break and come back when you’re ready, the job will be waiting for you and we’d be happy for you to have it for as long as you’d like.