By Thomas Floyd, Goal.com
CARSON, Calif. — For the past four months, the mortality of Landon Donovan’s career has become increasingly tangible. Yet the LA Galaxy icon has remained serene. He’s been contemplative — but not overly emotive.
It wasn’t until the final whistle Sunday that Donovan truly let loose. As the final whistle blew, the 32-year-old spread his arms, tilted his head back and looked to the heavens. Seconds later, he disappeared into a swarm of Galaxy teammates mobbing him from the bench.
Thus ended the last of Donovan’s 32,520 minutes played in Major League Soccer. With MLS Cup crown No. 6, his remarkable career came to a close.
“As much excitement as there is about the game, there is excitement that tomorrow I don’t have to train anymore,” said Donovan, sporting champagne-soaked hair during his postgame news conference. “Along with that, I won’t have experiences like today anymore either. So there is a lot of good, and there is going to be some bad. But it feels good to go out this way.”
Donovan’s legacy was entrenched well before the Galaxy’s 2-1 extra-time win over the New England Revolution. After 14 years, 379 matches, 169 goals and 150 assists, there is little doubting his place as the greatest player in MLS history.
And one can’t illustrate the gaping hole his retirement will leave in the American soccer landscape without factoring in his 157 caps, 57 goals and 58 assists in a U.S. uniform as well.
“He’s done it the right way, all the way,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “It’s tough that we were a part of his storybook ending, but he deserves everything that you guys write about him.”
For all of the attention centered on Donovan’s World Cup snub, it’s hard to imagine his final MLS campaign going much better. He became the league’s all-time scoring king in May, then claimed the assists record in October. He also earned MVP honors at his final All-Star game, scoring the winner against Bayern Munich.
Although Donovan didn’t end up on the scoresheet Sunday at StubHub Center — readily acknowledging he “didn’t have a great game” — the energy was there. Playing on both flanks and up top, Donovan put his versatility and work ethic to good use over 120 minutes as the Galaxy made it three titles in four years.
“This is everything for Landon,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said. “To win another championship, to win one with his teammates again, to go to battle one last time, it looked to me like he was leaving it all out there. When Landon does that, we seem to win games.”
Added captain Robbie Keane: “No one deserves to end on a high as much as he does, for what he’s done for MLS, the U.S. national team.”
With the end of one chapter naturally comes the beginning of another. Donovan isn’t sure what’s next, though he has dabbled in punditry and expressed a desire to work in youth coaching.
But Donovan has been certain about one aspect of his post-soccer life: Spending more time with his family. He was only a few minutes into retirement Sunday when he recalled playing soccer with his older brother, Josh, as a 2-year-old — and made the point they’ll finally have time to play together again.
That said, he will miss the connections he had in the Galaxy locker room. He hasn’t just battled on the field with these players — they’ve been there for each other through personal matters both joyful and tragic.
After 10 seasons with the same club, Donovan said “they really are your family.”
“It’s hard to talk about Landon,” Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas said. “Before the great player he is, he’s an amazing person. This is what I’m going to miss more in this locker room. I think he got what he deserved, finished like the big, big guy that he is.”
While many a star has faded before stepping away from the game, Donovan remained a dominant force in MLS until the end.
With 10 goals and a league-leading 19 assists, he earned a Best XI nod in his final MLS season. He then highlighted his postseason with a three-goal, one-assist outing against Real Salt Lake last month — arguably the greatest performance in playoff history.
It raises the obvious question: Why step away now?
As Galaxy coach Bruce Arena put it, “He’s spent. He’s done.” For a player who has been forthright about the sport’s physical and mental toll, the time to step away has arrived.
“I know the struggles I go through with my body and getting myself healthy every day,” Donovan said. “Could I play longer physically? Yeah, probably.
“But this just feels right.”
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