By Mike Woitalla
Will Saturday's MLS Cup be the last time we see the USA's greatest soccer player on the field? Because Landon Donovan says he’ll be contemplating retirement in the offseason.
Calling him the greatest U.S. player means no disrespect to brilliant stars such as Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos or Hugo Perez. But Donovan has had two excellent World Cup performances -- 2002 and 2010 -- and is the USA’s all-time leading scorer, with 49 goals in 144 appearances. He’s also the all-time assist leader with 28.
He has won four MLS titles: two with San Jose (2001, 2003) and two with the Galaxy (2005, 2011).
Donovan’s MLS postseason stats demonstrate what a clutch player he is: 21 goals and 12 assists in 33 games.
Stats, of course, aren’t enough to describe the magnificence of Donovan. He is the rare player who whenever he gets the ball creates the promise of excitement. It doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but with Donovan on the ball, there’s always the possibility that a game-changing moment will be delivered.
One can’t do better to describe Donovan than Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner: “Smooth ball control combined with superb balance, explosive acceleration and a wily soccer brain to make him a threat to any defense. … With the ball at his feet, he can cosset it, coax it, stroke it, occasionally bludgeon it. It is the silky smoothness of Donovan’s movement that catches the eye, nothing looks hurried or awkward. There is artistry in Donovan’s play, soccer artistry."
Donovan turns 31 in March. Too young to retire, it would seem. But he has, since debuting at age 19, played more than 300 MLS games, made 144 national team appearances -- plus scores of games in other competitions – and has spent offseasons playing in Germany and England, where in 2010 and 2012 he had successful loan spells with Everton to silence those who questioned his ability to excel abroad.
He doesn’t need to prove anything nor does he owe anyone. To ride into the sunset after what could be his fifth MLS title would be a fine finish to his stellar career.
But the USA does need Donovan for the 2014 World Cup.
Perhaps national team duty combined with club play has worn on Donovan -- which is understandable considering the amount of games national teams play in this era. Perhaps he'll choose to continue with the Galaxy next season but retire from international play.
And perhaps a break will re-motivate him. Whenever he's ready, he should be welcomed back to the national team with open arms.