Warshaw: Landon Donovan playing the game on his terms in Leon comeback

Landon Donovan at Leon presentation

There’s one general goal when it comes to retiring from professional sports: make it out with your soul intact.

It’s a strange comment regarding the ridiculously privileged life a professional athlete lives. I feel silly even saying it. But it’s true nonetheless.

When you turn your passion into your profession, it goes from being a joy to a job. The feelings remain the same, but the demands increase; on a daily basis, you care so much that it hurts. And the pain comes from the the thing you used to love more than anything else. It’s like your puppy sticking a dagger into your side.

Most players feel defeated when they retire. They feel they were slighted, or screwed, or believe they could have done more or shown more or accomplished more. Not many players sail off into the sunset. Most stumble drunkenly into the weeds.

But then there’s Landon. He’s gone about his career on his own terms. He took the hiatus, then returned, then retired even though he could still play, then came back, then retired again, and now he’s putting on the boots again. Retirement wasn’t the abyss most athletes feel; retirement was merely a decision, and a flexible one at that.

In truth, my emotional reaction to LD coming out of retirement to sign with Liga MX club Leon falls somewhere along the lines of ¯\(ツ)/¯.

My dad emailed his three sons with the subject line, “Landon?” and none of us responded, a nearly incomprehensible indifference from years past. I used up all my juice on LD’s last return. But on a professional level, I love it. It’s nice to see someone stick it to the man. The rest of us struggled and sacrificed and ended our careers in lonely rooms when no one would return our calls. Landon’s playing the game on his terms.

I have no idea why Landon, who last played a competitive match in November 2016, would want to play again. I thought about writing a piece breaking down the potential factors that led him to this move – the desire for a new challenge, the urge to compete again, an offer he couldn’t refuse – but I actually have no idea. No one does.

Someone offered him a chance to play high level soccer again and he took it. If someone offered me the chance, I’d take it. And I don’t even really enjoy playing soccer anymore (see above). I’d sign for no other reason than it could be fun.

When I first heard the news about Landon going to Leon, I was angry. I felt betrayed. “Mexico, are you kidding me, Landon? Mexico?!” I felt the same way my Uncle Jim in Boston felt when Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees. There’s some stuff you just don’t do in life, ya know. But after I wrote a tweet and deleted it, I laughed to myself.

Landon doesn’t care what any of us think. He gets to do what he wants. The fact that any former player gets that choice makes me happy.

BOBBY WARSHAW is a former professional player who played in MLS (2011-2013) and in Scandinavia after an accomplished college career at Stanford. A columnist and podcast host for Howler magazine, Warshaw is a published author and has also appeared on ExtraTime Live and ExtraTime Radio.