MLS and United States men’s national team all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan will retire from professional soccer at the end of the 2014 season.
Donovan, 32, revealed his decision in a Facebook post on Thursday afternoon, just one day after scoring the winning goal in the MLS All-Stars’ 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
"I don’t write these words lightly and this day carries mixed emotions for me," Donovan wrote. "I am sad to leave a profession that has brought me so much joy. I will miss all of the teammates who helped me create so many incredible memories on-the-field, and who I have shared many wonderful experiences with off-the-field. I will miss my coaches, at both the club and national team levels, who have helped me develop throughout my career and helped make me the player I am today. However, after spending half my life as a professional soccer player, I also am excited to begin a new chapter and pursue other opportunities that will challenge me and allow me to grow as a person."
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The choice to step away caps the career of perhaps the best American player to ever step on the field. No player has ever scored more for the United States men’s national team (57 goals) or in MLS (138 goals), but his influence extends well beyond his exploits during his time with the Galaxy, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Everton.
Donovan’s role in the development of the game in the United States — from his decision to return to MLS in 2001 and stay at home for the majority of his career to build the sport to the iconic goal he scored against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup — is even more significant. His role in the game made his omission from the United States squad for the World Cup even more stunning, but his place is confirmed nevertheless after scoring five times during his previous three appearances.
"I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have played a role in the remarkable growth of MLS and US Soccer during my playing career," Donovan wrote. "And while my career as a player will soon be over, rest assured I will stay connected on many levels to the beautiful game."
A year after Donovan returned to soccer, he realized he had lost his passion for the sport again. This time, the best player in American history decided to walk away for good.
However, the 32-year-old Donovan will make one last run at a championship with the Galaxy.
”For the last few years, I haven’t had the same passion that I had previously in my career,” Donovan said Thursday afternoon at the Galaxy’s stadium in Carson, Calif. ”To some extent, I had felt obligated to keep playing. … It’s time to enjoy the rest of the season, and there would be no better way than to go out as a champion, so that’s what I want to do.”
Donovan was named the most valuable player of his 14th MLS All-Star game on Wednesday night in Portland.
”All I could think is that if everyone only knew,” Donovan said with a grin.
Donovan, a five-time MLS champion with the Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes, made his retirement announcement on the same stage where he agreed to a multiyear contract extension with the Galaxy just a year ago, pronouncing himself revitalized after an extended sabbatical.
He took several months off following the Galaxy’s second straight MLS Cup title alongside now-retired David Beckham in December 2012. Donovan traveled extensively during his time off, and he plans to see even more of the world after his career ends this fall.
”It gets me excited thinking about it,” Donovan said. ”For 16 years, almost every decision I’ve made, every hour of every day, has revolved around, `How is this going to prepare me for tomorrow’s training session or tomorrow’s game?’ Just having the freedom to do whatever you want is exciting, and I’m looking forward to that.”
Donovan has been a key component of MLS’ impressive growth during his 14 years in the top North American league. After he struggled for playing time at Bayer Leverkusen as a teenager, he chose to pursue a pro career in his native California instead of Europe, adding a marquee attraction to the then-struggling league.
”There is no doubt that Major League Soccer would not be what it is today without Landon Donovan,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. ”His decision to join MLS in 2001 was a statement to the entire soccer community, at the most crucial time in our history, that MLS could be a league of choice for the best American players. Landon is to MLS what Michael Jordan was to the NBA, Wayne Gretzky was to the NHL and Tiger Woods was to the PGA Tour: a player whose sporting accomplishments and popularity transformed their respective leagues and set a new standard for how the game would be played.”
Donovan said his decision wasn’t spurred by his omission from his fourth U.S. World Cup team this summer. He was surprised and disappointed by coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision, feeling he had done enough in training camp to warrant inclusion.
”I certainly wasn’t going to allow one person’s poor choice this summer to affect a decision like this,” Donovan said.
Donovan is the career U.S. leader with 57 international goals over 156 appearances, and he has scored five World Cup goals, including his famed stoppage-time goal against Algeria four years ago to send the Americans to the second round. He watched the American team in Brazil from afar as a television commentator.
”Quite simply the best player ever to wear the USMNT jersey,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati posted on his Twitter account.
Donovan has no concrete plans for his long-term future in soccer, but he is eager to work with young players in the Galaxy’s academy training program.
”Landon’s legacy is secure with the Galaxy,” said Galaxy President Chris Klein, Donovan’s former teammate and roommate. ”So to be able to celebrate that for the rest of the year in terms of how he goes out will be great. When he decides what it is that he wants to do and where he wants to put his heart and energy next, we’ll be there to talk about that.”
Donovan has played for the Galaxy since 2005, also going on loan to Everton and Bayern Munich during the Galaxy’s offseason. Donovan struggled early in his pro career in Europe, but was popular during his two stints with Everton.
”Congratulations on a great career to (at)landondonovan as he announces he’ll retire later this year. Part of EFC fabric,” Everton tweeted from its official account.
Donovan has four goals and seven assists in 17 games for the Galaxy this season as a midfielder and a forward. He passed Jeff Cunningham for the career MLS goals record shortly after Klinsmann excluded him from the World Cup team.
His absence creates another hole for the LA club, which couldn’t manage a third straight MLS title last season in its first year since Beckham’s departure. But Donovan’s retirement opens up a designated player spot for the Galaxy alongside leading scorer Robbie Keane and U.S. national team defender Omar Gonzalez.
After a lifetime spent in practices and games, Donovan sees his departure as another step in his personal evolution into whatever person he decides to be outside soccer. His decision to leave the Bundesliga for MLS as an unhappy teenager was unpopular, and Donovan knows many fans won’t understand his early retirement.
”Sometimes there’s a sense of obligation in people’s lives, the sense that you have to do something,” Donovan said. ”I’ve never lived that way. I have to live the life I want to live, and that’s an important thing to go by.”