WASHINGTON – Ben Olsen certainly has a history with Landon Donovan.
The D.C. United head coach and former player lined up on the opposite side of the center stripe against the LA Galaxy legend on quite a few occasions, and played alongside him more than once. In fact, the two were on the same US national team that went to the World Cup in 2006, among other overlapping spells with the Stars and Stripes.
And while much has been made of Donovan’s play on the pitch ahead of his final game with the US on Friday night (7 pm ET, ESPN and UniMas), it was Donovan’s persona off the field that truly stuck with Olsen.
"What I’ve always liked about Landon,” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com after his team’s training session Thursday morning, “[is that] he has views on life that I’ve always respected. At times he got criticized for taking some time off or not going to Germany – it’s his life. I’ve always respected Landon for that and for making some tough decisions that he thought he needed to make – including retiring when he still has a few more good years in him.
"He doesn’t owe anybody anything,” Olsen continued. "He’s done his part for this sport and anybody that says different is wrong."
Donovan has in recent days given a pair of interviews – one to Sports Illustrated and another to ESPN.com – where he’s discussed at length his decisions to take a sabbatical from the game in 2013 and to ultimately step away from the sport entirely at the close of the 2014 MLS season.
It’s a level of candor that’s rare for an athlete of his profile, something Olsen has also taken note of. On Thursday, Olsen was reflective when asked about the Galaxy midfielder, and also suggested that Donovan – who has for years been among the highest-paid players in the league – has always taken an interest in other players who aren’t among the league’s top earners.
“I’ve always liked the way Landon spoke his mind,” Olsen said. “If he committed to something, he wasn’t just talk. He acted on things and has supported this league; he’s supported his teammates - both the guys making $40,000 and the guys making $4 million dollars.
"He’s always been an advocate for guys in this league making more money from the bottom up first, so I have a lot of respect for him, obviously, as a player. The way he’s handled himself throughout his career, it’s been nice to see.”
Olsen added that he’ll certainly watch Donovan’s finale on Friday night, but it comes with a mix of delight and sadness to see Donovan play his final game for the USMNT.
“He’s just always showed up and was usually the best player on the field,” Olsen said. “It was fun to share the field with him a few times, and he deserves all the credit he’s getting; all of the hoopla around this game is well-earned.
"It’ll be sad to not see him playing soccer in this country."
Pablo Maurer covers DC United for MLSsoccer.com.