CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan has spent the first six months of retirement doing all the things he couldn't do while playing – travel, mostly – and taking the initial steps toward what he hopes to pursue once this “honeymoon phase” of his life is done.
He's visited India, the Maldives and Peru, honeymooned in Fiji after his marriage last month, attended The Masters golf tournament and worked a little with Tab Ramos and the US squad at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand while relaxing as much as such a schedule permits.
The 33-year-old US legend, who stepped away from the game following the LA Galaxy's MLS Cup triumph last December, has no inclination to return to the field, but he acknowledged there are times he misses his former life.
“I miss the game days,” Donovan said Tuesday afternoon, when he took part in a StubHub Center event involving the Galaxy's Special Olympics United soccer team. “When I'm here in the stadium on game days, I miss that. I don't miss the travel, I don't miss the hot summer training sessions, I don't miss having to take care of yourself 24-7, but the game days, the energy in the stadium, I certainly miss.
“I think that part is the part you can't get back anywhere [else].”
He says he's attended “maybe three” Galaxy games and has watched others on television or computer, and that he experiences something of an urge to run onto the field when things aren't going well, as they haven't for much of the first three months of LA's campaign.
“I think as athletes we always think [we could be out there]. When I'm 50, I'll probably think that still,” Donovan said. “More for me, it's I know the players so well and I've been here so long and I know the coaching staff so well, that you just want to help when you can. So when a game doesn't go well, you want to help. When a game goes well, it's like, 'Great, OK, no problem.' But if the game isn't going well, then your like, 'Shoot, I want to be there, I want to help.'”
Donovan's still part of the Galaxy family, and Tuesday's event – in which 26 kids, a combination of players with and without intellectual disabilities, signed ceremonial contracts with the club ahead of Special Olympics Unified-affiliated games against a team representing FC Dallas – was very special for the LA icon.
“It's dear to my heart,” Donovan said. “My mom taught special ed for 30 years, my sister teaches it, so it resonates with me. But more than that, I like doing events like this. You feel good when you do it. I had plenty of opportunities to do media and endorsement and those kinds of appearances, but these feel really good, so I try to do it.
“My mom impacted hundreds, probably thousands and thousands of children, and that's wonderful. I realize that I come to this today, if I put out a message on Facebook, I can create more awareness than she could have in 30 years. It's not fair, but it's the reality. I feel a responsibility to do it.”
Donovan said he loved the opportunity to work with the US U-20s, and that it reminded him of the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup in New Zealand, where he first came to the world's attention.
“I think [the US team is] incredibly talented,” he said. “Really, when you look at it, a really good group of players, really good personalities, no ego amongst the bunch. For a lot of them, you can tell they need more consistent games – they need to play games more consistently – but I think Tab's done a terrific job with them. They're not perfect, but there's quite a few kids on that team that have a real chance to be successful.”
Donovan was asked if he saw anyone resembling himself at that age.
“A lot of them remind me of myself, as far as just being a little punk off the field, but on the field, it's kind of young to tell,” he replied. “Some of them have flashes of real good ability, just like we did at that age, and then they have flashes where there's mistakes or errors, just like we did at that age. I think over time there should be a few of these kids that really pan out to have great national team careers. And I would say the majority will have good pro careers.”
Donovan said he was using his time, and his travels, to consider what he wants to do next. He's finding some answers, one of them mirroring one of old teammate David Beckham's aspirations.
“I'm trying to find things I'm passionate about,” Donovan said “So the trip with the 20s was a really good experience for me, and I really, really enjoyed it. I enjoyed working with that age group, and I felt like I could have a real impact with them. I'm freshly retired, I'm newly retired, so I'm still relevant enough where they're not just listening to some old guy preach to them, and I hope that had an impact on them. That age group was really enjoyable to talk to and to work with.
“I have always had a dream to be an owner of a sports team, and hopefully an MLS team. If that opportunity presents itself, or [something] as a high-level executive, that's something I would certainly look at seriously.”
Donovan worked as a studio analyst during ESPN's coverage of last year's World Cup, and he says he'll do some broadcast work “along the way ... but I don't think it'll happen full-time.”
“I'm more passionate about having a real say at an executive or ownership level of a team or coaching at a younger [age level]. Those two things are things I'm really passionate about, so I think I'll veer that way.”