Get a good look at Landon Donovan in the Major League Soccer playoffs this week, because the Los Angeles Galaxy and U.S. national team star could hang up his cleats sooner than we think.
Donovan made some pretty strong hints the past few weeks that he is weary and in need of a break from soccer and the fame that goes along with his high-profile career. How long a break remains to be seen, but don’t be shocked if he isn’t around for the 2014 World Cup.
In a few interviews with ESPN, the all-time leading U.S. scorer admitted he is physically and emotionally spent. Donovan, 30, has had a string of injuries and illnesses this season — bronchitis, quadriceps and hamstring pulls, and a bone bruise. He has had to miss time with the Galaxy and missed seven of the 13 U.S. World Cup qualifiers, although he has looked sharp heading into Sunday’s MLS semifinal against the San Jose Earthquakes (9 p.m., ESPN).
He said the absence from the national team left him wondering if he is still in the mix — or even wants to play — for the 2014 team.
“When you’re not part of the team all the time, you can start to question your value and your worth there,” Donovan told ESPN. “I’m human. I think about those things, and I wonder that from time to time — am I capable and/or do they still want me around?
“I need time where I can just pause and breathe and rest and let my body heal, let my mind refresh. I think at that point I’ll be excited to play again. If I’m not enjoying playing anymore, the World Cup is the last thing on my mind. I need to make sure I’m enjoying playing every day. If I’m not enjoying, none of that stuff really matters.
“Your body is going to tell you it’s time to take a break, and that’s what my body has done this year — there’s no question.”
He said he has been pondering these issues for quite some time.
“This isn’t just something that came into my head yesterday. This has been a long time coming. The hard part is I really love [the Galaxy]. I love this city. I love playing for this team. I love playing for our owner. So it would be hard to leave here. … But maybe you need something different. Eight years of anything is a long time.”
He admitted that he worries some U.S. players might question his injuries and commitment to the team. He was in Miami for the team training camp last month, but was unable to play at Antigua because of his knee injury.
“It’s probably affected my relationship with everybody on that team,” Donovan said of the absences. “When you’re a guy who’s never been hurt for the most part and then all of a sudden you have all these injuries, I think people start to question it — ‘Maybe he’s faking it, or maybe he’s not really hurt or maybe he doesn’t want to come in.’
“That’s really frustrating and candidly it’s pretty hurtful because I’ve spent more time on a soccer field than anybody in the history of this program. I’ve played in games I shouldn’t be playing in for health reasons or otherwise. I feel like I’ve given a lot to this program, and when you get the sense that people think you’re not genuine, then that can hurt you.”
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said during a conference call Thursday that Donovan is “always in our plans, absolutely.” He said he got no indication that players questioned Donovan’s injuries. Klinsmann said he plans to reach out to Donovan and invite him to lunch or dinner after the MLS playoffs.
“It’s really down to him, himself, what he wants to further achieve in his career, what he wants to do,” the coach said. “Whatever he decides to do will be very respected by us.”
If he does decide to quit, it would be a huge loss for U.S. Soccer and MLS. Donovan is not only one of the most skilled and dedicated players this country has ever seen, but he also is a true professional when it comes to his commitments to the fans and media. Here’s hoping he gets reenergized and sticks around two more years.
As for the rest of the U.S. team, Klinsmann is optimistic heading into the final round of qualifying, which begins Feb. 6.
“It is a work-in-progress and a positive work-in-progress,” he said. “We’ve tried to push up the back line further and further, we’ve tried to play in the opponent’s half more and more and we try to keep the ball and rotate and play one-two touches fast. This is a process that will take time. I’m pleased with the process. The players understand with every camp we are together they understand better and better.
“The year was highly interesting. We had, overall, about 45 or 46 different players going through the program. We tried to evaluate every one of them and take a closer look at them. It’s been great to see some people breaking into the team, making a mark. Some youngsters, whether it’s a Joe Corona, Danny Williams, Fabian Johnson or Graham Zusi coming through the ranks now, too. It’s also good to see players on an individual level stepping it up with their club teams, getting to bigger clubs and more meaningful competitions and in environments where they are even more under pressure and challenged and we’re curious to follow them throughout their whole season to see how they’re doing there.”
• Box office: The national teams of Venezuela and Nigeria play an exhibition match at 8 p.m. Nov. 14 at Marlins Park. Tickets are available at marlins.com.