Chipotle Homegrown Game: Landon Donovan all smiles after coaching debut, but future is undecided

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Landon Donovan’s coaching didn’t end perfectly, result-wise, but he had no reason to be unhappy.

Sure, his roster of MLS Homegrown players fell on penalty kicks in the second annual Chipotle MLS Homegrown game after a back-and-forth 1-1 draw on Tuesday night, but all in all, the experience was a positive one.

“For all of us, I think we enjoyed the experience. It’s certainly different; it gives you a little anxiety because you can’t be out there,” Donovan told reporters after the game. “Now I understand why coaches struggle with that stuff, because it’s difficult. I thought the guys were great, their attitude was great, and it was a really fun night. I think everyone enjoyed it.”

Sitting on the bench instead of stepping on the field proved to be something of an adjustment for the former LA Galaxy and US national team star, though he noted that the nerves he felt as the game approached weren’t that different from the ones he experienced during his playing days.

“After our pregame meal I walked down and I said to [Homegrown assistants] Mike [Muñoz] and Pat [Noonan] that I had that same anxious, nervous feeling when you used to play. That was enjoyable,” Donovan recalled. “On the bench, I’ve spent a lot of time in my life trying to focus on the things I can control, so it’s hard when you’re sitting there, because there’s so much you can’t control, and you just have to remind yourself, ‘It’s OK.’

“I really enjoyed it. There’s excitement and a lot of pleasure. I’ll sleep very well tonight.”

There wasn’t much discussion of the result itself in the postgame proceedings, perhaps reflective of the relaxed atmosphere of the game and the fact that Donovan was coaching players that had essentially gotten to know each other over the last two days.

Scoreline aside, América topped the Homegrowns in the other areas of the statistics columns, outpossessing them 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent and outshooting them 11-6, though they only had a 4-3 advantage in shots on target. That his Homegrown team came out of that 90 minutes with a draw, though, was not only a source of pride for Donovan and his charges, but a reflection on how far the process of talent development in the United States has come since he first broke into the league in 2001.

“We just played a very, very good Club América team. Those kids have been together for six or seven years, and we have players that are at least at their level,” he said. “That didn’t happen 10 years ago. When I came into the league there wasn’t players like that, so that’s a good sign.

“Now it’s incumbent on all these guys to keep pushing and making their way to the first team, and playing regularly and it’s really exciting. I think the future looks fantastic.”

For some players that future could mean the US or other national teams, and in that sense, Donovan argued the Homegrown game could be a valuable learning experience for some of the youngsters on the team.

“It’s hard to come into an environment where you don’t know people and you come together in two days. The more experiences you have like that, the more you benefit from it,” he explained. “With the national team you play Sunday, you come in Monday, you’re playing Wednesday, it’s valuable to have experiences like this.”

As far as his own future is concerned, Donovan had said earlier in the week that this coaching job was something of a feeling out process for him. When all was said and done, he was still bullish on the experience, though he noted that his future was far from decided, and that he’d need to lot more work if coaching was the path he chose for the future.

“I’ve been very briefly in this environment, and I’ll be the first to tell you I had no clue what I was doing this week,” he quipped. “If that was path I was going to go down, I would want to prepare properly… It’s like anything in life, you don’t just walk into it and be successful.”