Despite another important weekend looming in Major League Soccer, one of the biggest topics on training fields around the league on Friday was Landon Donovan’s recent announcement that he will retire at the conclusion of the season this fall.
A number of players and coaches around the league shared their memories of Donovan’s career and his impact on the league, including New York Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry, who called Donovan a symbol for American soccer.
“It’s weird because when you think about the MLS and when you think about US soccer, you think about Landon Donovan,” Henry said. “The amount of games he’s played for the national team, the amount of goals, what he represents for [Americans] is a symbol. It was unexpected, and you have to respect his decision.”
Donovan came on for Henry during the MLS All-Star Game vs. Bayern Munich on Wednesday night in Portland, and the LA Galaxy star went to score the game-winning goal in what proved to be his 14th and final summer showcase.
“It’s kind of weird now that I can say that I shared that little moment with him on Wednesday,” Henry said. “I didn’t know at the time, but obviously now it was pretty special coming out for him, him coming [in], scoring was a special moment.”
Longtime US national teammate and Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley said Friday that Donovan was a player he looked up to during the early days of his career, and he cited “a lot of big nights” with Donovan on the field with the USMNT.
“I think everybody is [sad to see him go],” said Bradley [right]. “He’s still able to play at such a high level and give so much. When you have a teammate, a friend who’s been able to come to terms with something and think about things in a certain way to arrive to a decision he’s happy with, all you can do is not only respect that but be happy for him.”
Donovan made the announcement via his Facebook page on Thursday and then met the media in Los Angeles, admitting he lacked the same passion for the sport as in years past.
“It’s a sad day, that’s how I look at it,” Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman told the ExtraTime Radio podcast. “Hopefully we’ll get another Landon Donovan, but he was a special, special player and one that doesn’t come around too often.”
Donovan’s announcement brought tears to the eyes of longtime Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, and current Chicago Fire head coach Frank Yallop – who coached Donovan with both the San Jose Earthquakes and the Galaxy – admitted he was slightly surprised about the finality of Donovan’s decision.
“It’s a little bit shocking that he’s done it,” Yallop said. “Landon is his own man as we know with everything he does. You can’t really say how much he’s done for American soccer but he was the one that put US soccer on the map. The way he played, the way he handled himself, everything he did was wonderfully well.”
Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said Friday that he wasn’t shocked about Donovan’s decision, which came with more than two months left in the regular season.
“Obviously a little bit of a surprise but not a shock,” Schmid said. “Knowing Landon, he's a unique individual, that's made him a good player. But he's also the kind of guy who knows himself and he knows where he's at with his passion and his determination."
"He knows where he's at and he's the best judge of that,” Schmid added. “We aren't.”
Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill said he could identify with Donovan’s responsibilities as the United States’ most iconic player, and said Donovan showed during his career that he could serve as the “ambassador of American soccer all by himself.”
Cahill – who is widely considered the ambassador of Australian football – played with Donovan at Everton during Donovan’s loan spells there in 2010 and 2012.
“One thing I do know about Landon: he does what he wants to do,” Cahill said. “He doesn’t care what people think. That’s not an arrogant thing, that’s actually him being a man and he’s got things that he wants to do in his future. He’s a good friend and, more importantly, he’s a great role model on and off the park.”