Landon Donovan’s Legacy is More Than Numbers

Donovan will retire at the end of the MLS season after a 16 year pro career
by Jamie Pham   |   Monday, August 11, 2014

Galaxy of Angels – column on Los Angeles Galaxy (LA Galaxy) & the LA soccer scene.

Landon Donovan has had a long week.

After beating conference rivals Portland Timbers on Saturday, Aug. 2, he headed north for the MLS All-Star game. 

Donovan came into the game at the 48th minute amidst some boos for Thierry Henry, who ironically got a standing ovation over speculation that this might be his last season. 22 minutes later, Donovan got on the end of a pass from Diego Valeri and slotted home the go-ahead goal against World Cup winning goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. 

“If everybody only knew what was going on,” he replied at his press conference the day after his game when asked what was going through his mind he scored the goal. 

Donovan said he started thinking about retirement a little bit before the Seattle game. 

"For the last few years, I haven’t had the same passion that I had previously in my career, and to some extent I had felt obligated to keep playing," said Donovan. "Last year I took a long break from the game, and that was really the first time that [retirement] was a real possibility. I wanted to get away and take some time to see how it would feel after getting away for awhile. I came back rejuvenated, I came back refreshed. But after a few months even of last season, I started to have some feelings of, you know, it doesn’t feel the same, there’s not that same passion, that same energy.

Below are just some of his accomplishments in his 16-year career:

  • 5-time MLS Cups
  • 2009 MLS MVP
  • 2-time MLS Cup MVPs
  • U.S. Open Cup winner
  • 4-time Gold Cup winner
  • All time leading MLS regular season goal scorer (138) and in the playoffs (22)
  • 14 consecutive All-Star appearances
  • All time leading All-Star goalscorer (6)
  • 300 MLS starts 
  • 156 USMNT appearances (1st)
  • 57 USMNT goals (1st)
  • 58 USMNT assists (1st)
  • 5 World Cup goals (most by any American)
  • 12 World Cup games played (most by any American)
  • Never missed a penalty with the USMNT (15 attempts)
  • 34 of 39 penalties converted in MLS (includes playoffs)

His decision to return to MLS after signing with Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga did not hurt his career one bit. He was able to accomplish things and set records with the U.S. Men’s National Team and MLS that won’t be broken for a while. 

“There is no doubt that Major League Soccer would not be what it is today without Landon Donovan,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. "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 currently leads the USMNT with 58 assists which is more than the next three players on that list combined (Cobi Jones - 22, Claudio Reyna - 19, and Eddie Lewis - 16).

The only active player behind him in goals is Clint Dempsey with 39 goals. Unless Dempsey goes on a scoring run with the National Team, Donovan’s record of 57 goals will be intact for quite a while. 

Two months ago, he became the leading goal scorer in MLS breaking Jeff Cunningham’s record of 134 goals.

All of this while being left off Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man World Cup roster this past summer. 

Klinsmann has the opportunity to call in Donovan for the U.S. friendlies later this fall so he can don the red, white, and blue one last time.

What did he hoped his legacy would be?

"I hope that my teammates will say I was a good teammate," he said. "I hope that my coaches will say they enjoyed working with me and having me on their team. I hope that the fans enjoyed watching and could see how much I gave to this sport over the last 16 years."

"And that’s really it. Because at the end of the day, the goals and the assists and the accolades and that stuff, in the end they don’t mean a whole lot to me, but the relationships matter. ... I think my teammates have all enjoyed being around me and playing with me, and I think they know how much I’ve dedicated to this whole thing."

Though he might be content with just that, he is leaving behind so much more.  

Jamie PHAM

Pasadena City College
Club Domestic:
LA Galaxy
Club Foreign:
Former tour manager turned sports blogger, Jamie spends loads of time reviewing the Los Angeles sports scene and is a big MLS and USMNT supporter.