CARSON, Calif. – It seems rather fitting that Landon Donovan’s farewell tour should begin against his first MLS club, not that he’s putting a lot of stock into that.
He’s got 15 games to go – plus playoffs, if applicable – and the first arrives Friday night at StubHub Center with a California Clasico showdown against the San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 pm ET, NBCSN, free stream on NBCSports.com, TSN2 in Canada). It’s the next step toward what he really wants, which is to go out on top, and he wants kickoff to be now.
"I want to enjoy [the rest of the season], and I want to win. I want to go out as a champion," Donovan said when he announced Thursday that he’ll retire at season’s end. "The enjoyment part is there, it’s not going away. I can feel it. I’m excited for [the game against San Jose]. I can’t wait to get on the field and play, and as far as the championship goes, I will put everything I have into that, because it’s my last chance. I will make sure that if we don’t win it, that I go down fighting."
That’s not the kind of talk the rest of MLS – as much as Donovan is universally respected – wants to hear, especially after the Galaxy’s performances the past month or so. They’re 5-1-1 since the league’s brief World Cup break in June, and have lopsided victories over New England, at Seattle and against Portland among their last four outings.
Donovan shares the record for most MLS Cup championships with five. He’s led the Galaxy to titles in 2005, 2011 and 2012, and he won two during four seasons with the Earthquakes in 2001 and 2003. Another this year would be most meaningful.
"The last thing Landon said [in his speech to teammates] was, ‘I want to go out as champion,’" defender Robbie Rogers said. "He’s been playing so well, especially the last few weeks, and I don’t think [retirement] changes his focus, his concentration. If anything, he’s more focused."
Donovan said the decision to retire, which he made about two weeks ago, has buoyed his spirits, provided freedom that he’s not known since, really, his teens. He’s enjoying playing more than he has in a long time.
He’s looking forward to even greater freedom when it’s over.
"For 16 years, almost every decision I’ve made, every hour of every day has revolved around ‘how is this going to prepare me for tomorrow’s training session or tomorrow’s game?’" he said. "And that weighs on you after awhile. Just having the freedom to do whatever you want is very exciting for me, and I’m really looking forward to it."
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But first there’s 15 games. Nine of them are at StubHub Center, including an Aug. 31 "road" game in the year’s final SuperClasico against Chivas USA, and fans in Columbus, Denver, Montreal, San Jose, Dallas and Seattle will get to pay their respects, too.
Will American soccer ever see another Landon Donovan?
"You’d like to think so," forward Robbie Keane said. "That’s one of the reasons why the league wants to grow and wants to produce certain players like Landon. Will they achieve what he’s achieved with the country? I have no clue, to be honest with you. I’m sure the league would like that to happen.
"He’s certainly one of a kind, and he’s shown that since he started off here in the MLS [and] with the national team, how important he’s been with them over the last decade. I’m sure down the road, with the structure of the league and the structure of the youth system, I’m sure they’ll want to get another Landon Donovan."