By FRANCO PANIZO
BRISTOL, Conn. — Landon Donovan has always done things his way, and that will be the case once more on Friday night as Donovan rides into the U.S. Men’s National Team sunset.
Donovan’s illustrious international career has been discussed aplenty this week ahead of a friendly against Ecuador that will see him say goodbye to the U.S. program that he has been the face of for so long. Emotions will surely run high at Rentschler Field from both Donovan and the fans, and there will likely be a bit of a hangover after the final whistle is blown and the realization that Donovan’s international career is over sinks in.
Donovan talked about his final U.S. appearance and reflected on his career at ESPN Studios on Friday, just hours before starting and captaining the Americans in a curtain call that almost never came to be because of his shocking omission from this summer’s World Cup roster.
“Three, four months ago if someone asked if this day would happen, I would say, ‘You’re out of your mind and crazy.'” said Donovan. “I give all the credit to (U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati) for sticking with me through some hard conversations and understanding what was important and making it happen.
“I believe this is a day I deserve, I believe this is a day my family deserves for all the sacrifices they’ve made. I’m here representing all the wonderful teammates I’ve played played with, all the coaches I’ve played for, all the executives who take great care of us and (MLS commissioner Don Garber) who is here today.”
Donovan touched on myriad other topics, including comments made a day earlier by the man who cut him from the Americans’ preliminary World Cup roster. U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann – who was not present at Friday’s press conference – said Thursday that Donovan deserved praise for an accomplished career but that it may have been even more successful had the 32-year-old attacker tried to stick it out in Europe.
Donovan said if he had a mentor during the early years of his career to guide him through the hardships that are often experienced in Europe, he might have stuck around at Bayer Leverkusen. But the LA Galaxy veteran also stated he had no issue with how his career played out and the decisions he made.
“It’s easy for people to judge others in their choices and life choices,” said Donovan. “I’ve tried to not do that because I don’t live anyone else’s life and, likewise, nobody lives my life. I’ve always tried to make decisions that were best for me and best for my family and best for my happiness.
“I realize that’s not always popular with people. I’m sure a lot of people wish my career had gone a different way. But it’s funny how things work out and when we look at the state of Major League Soccer now and where it’s come from, I’m really proud to have been a part of that growth. When you look at the national team and where it is now, I’m really proud to have been part of that growth. Perhaps if my career had been played in other places, maybe I wouldn’t have been a part of the national team as much.”
The legendary Donovan still has not spoken to Klinsmann about Friday’s game. The U.S.’s all-time leader in goals and assists also did not directly respond to a question regarding his and Klinsmann’s relationship, saying only, “You know.”
A topic Donovan was not hesitant to dive into was his battles with depression. After talking in recent days and weeks about mental health issues, he again delved into the subject in his trademark introspective manner.
“There are many people in life that deal with periods of depression,” said Donovan. “There are many people in this country who deal with mental issues. Many people who are undiagnosed. Many people who are afraid to admit it. Many people both famous and otherwise who have dealt with these issues.
“It’s human nature to have sad periods in life. I’d much rather feel than not feel things and to go through some of the things we as humans go through, it’s normal to feel that way.”
As for the legacy he hopes to leave behind, Donovan said he does not want to just be remembered for his dozens of goals and assists nor solely for special moments like scoring the memorable and spine-tingling 2010 World Cup goal against Algeria.
“When I look at the big picture, we’re providing people something more than that,” said Donovan. “I hope more than goals, assists, games, that people looked at me and say, ‘That guy played the right way. He was passionate. He cared. He cared about his teammates, his coaches, everybody involved, and tried to make things better.’
“Of course, it’s our job. Of course, we’re earning a living. Of course, we live amazing lives. But we genuinely care. I hope people say that I genuinely cared about this whole thing and tried to make it better.”
Gulati, who accompanied Donovan for the press conference, also spoke about the conclusion of one of the more illustrious careers in American history. Gulati praised all the things Donovan accomplished, while also commending him for the manner in which he went about it all.
“In the end, he’s chosen a way that he’s been comfortable with, that’s been painful at times and joyous on many occasions,” said Gulati. “He’s lived his life in the way he wanted to. All of us that have watched it, a long time or more recently, have gotten great pleasure out of what you’ve done on the field.
“At a personal level, I’m extraordinarily happy that you’ve done it the way you’ve wanted to do it.”