Arguably the greatest player in American soccer history, the 32-year-old is stepping away from the game with plenty left in the tank.News of Landon Donovan's impending retirement was stunning in context but not content.
The American soccer community, of course, knew this was coming sooner than later. There was thought that an introspective Donovan would step away after winning the 2012 MLS Cup, though that sabbatical ended up lasting less than four months. His abrupt omission from the USA's World Cup team was another step in that direction.
Yet the timing of this development — less than 24 hours after Donovan was happy to let 36-year-old Thierry Henry soak up the All-Star game's spotlight — came as a surprise. Presumably arranged for a new player, a mysterious LA Galaxy news conference suddenly took on a much different significance.
Sure, Donovan's career was winding down. But now? He signed a multi-year contract extension less than 12 months ago.
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U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's justification for leaving Donovan off the World Cup squad was that the 32-year-old's current form did not live up to his past accomplishments. It's a reasonable enough thought.
"The media thinks he has to be in the starting lineup or he has to be in Brazil based on what he did, and he did marvelous for soccer in the United States over the last 12, 14 years," Klinsmann told ESPN before the World Cup. "That's not how it works. I have to choose the best 23 players based on what I see today."
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No, Donovan is stepping away from professional soccer with plenty left in the tank.
It's been evident these few couple weeks alone. With a goal and two assists, Donovan ran the show in a 3-0 win at first-place Seattle. Then last weekend, he set up Robbie Keane's strike against Portland with some world-class combination play. In his 14th All-Star game Wednesday, he needed just a 23-minute cameo to score the winner and snatch the MVP trophy.
With four goals and seven assists through 17 games played, Donovan should finish the season close to his 13-year career average of 10 goals and nine assists. He ranks fifth in MLS in scoring chances created, and is first among American players.
Going a bit further back, it was just last summer that Donovan led the USA to Gold Cup glory, claiming honors as the tournament's top player. He tied as the Americans' leading scorer in 2013, and he led the USA in chances produced over the 12 months building toward the World Cup.
Although he doesn't have the same burst he did a few years ago, Donovan has evolved as a possession player. And he still hits the killer ball in transition better than anyone in MLS.
Whether Donovan could have helped the USA advance further in the World Cup is a moot point. The majority of Klinsmann's gambles paid off and he got the Americans out of the "group of death." All things considered, that qualifies as "mission accomplished."
But in an alternate universe where Donovan wasn't frozen out of the national team, it's not difficult to imagine him sticking around as a key contributor at the 2015 Gold Cup or 2016 Copa America Centenario. Donovan will be 34 two summers from now, and we just saw the likes of Miroslav Klose (36), Andrea Pirlo (35) and Rafa Marquez (35) succeed in elite international competition.
Soccer, however, isn't played in the abstract (as much as we would like it to be). Instead, the U.S. national team is officially moving on from its all-time leader in goals and assists. And Donovan is moving on from the field — in three or four months, that is.
Until then, make no mistake about it: We're watching an American soccer legend go out near the top of his game.