PRINCETON, N.J. — Now that was deep.
The media conducted what felt like a therapy session with Landon Donovan on Tuesday afternoon. Prying as deeply as they could over the course of 30 minutes, the US national-team press corps fired off questions about his feelings, state of mind and his relationships.
“I’m more real than I was, I’m more centered,” Donovan said. “I’m in a much better place than I was in the past.”
It was a long introspective journey through Donovan’s soul and how he has experienced being the poster boy of American soccer for over a decade.
“When you first come on the scene, it’s exciting in a way that you’re just genuinely happy to be there,” he said. “Then I went through a period where there was a lot of attention and with that came pressure and a lot of soccer, and I got to the point where it just wore me down.
“And I thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s just too much. Then you hope you get to a place where you find your way again and you find what this really means to you.”
His two previous World Cup appearances represented the state of his personality at those distinct times.
“At 20 [for the 2002 World Cup] it was youthful exuberance and naiveté and literally just playing every day because you loved to play every day," he said. "Now there’s more responsibility and in my opinion there’s also greater opportunity. I enjoy the challenge of that now. In 2006, that became burdensome because I wasn’t ready for it. Now I’m ready and I’m really excited for it.”
Donovan has always been one of the more introspective players in MLS, but on Tuesday he was more revealing than ever before. He admitted that the journey from where he was in 2002 to where he is now started when he met Bianca Kajlich, whom he met in 2002 after a Los Angeles Galaxy-San Jose Earthquakes game. The two married in 2006, and separated last year.
“[She] has taught me more about myself than I’ve ever known and continues to do that," he said. "Bianca is an actress, and if any of you know what that life is like, it can be miserable at times and she has fought very hard for everything she’s gotten. I, on the other hand, have been blessed and fortunate with the ability and the opportunities I’ve been given. When you get that perspective and realize that you can’t take things for granted, it hits you hard when it comes from your wife and your best friend. That’s been a really big part of this whole process.”
The frank discussion of his marriage and the public nature of the split seemed really to occupy Donovan's mind. Whereas many saw it as a disappointing event, the Galaxy star took a more optimistic point of view.
“I think every comment I get when I would tell people I’m going through a divorce was that, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry.' It’s not always the case that it has to be sorry," he said. "Sometimes you learn more from those moments more than anything. For me, that was certainly the case. It doesn’t have to be ugly or nasty. It can be helpful and you can grow from it.”
As if sensing the ruminative mood in the room, Donovan revealed that therapy also helped him in his growth as a person and professional.
“Coaches have certainly helped, family, therapy and spending a lot of time looking at myself in an honest way,” he said. “When you combine all that, you don’t have much choice but to learn about yourself whether you like it or not.”
Just three-and-a-half weeks before the start of the World Cup, there was a clear sense that Donovan is mentally locked in and at peace with himself and his role. US fans, of course, hope it all leads to a new kind of nirvana in South Africa.