Who will fill the void left by Landon Dovovan?
Saying goodbye, believe it or not, will be the easiest part of this au revoir.
Landon Donovan is turning out the lights whenever and wherever the L.A. Galaxy’s 2014 campaign comes to a close. A day after notching the game-winning goal in the 2014 Major League Soccer All-Star Game against Bayern Munich in Portland, Oregon, America’s face of soccer called a news conference and said after playing professionally for 16 years, soccer is coming to an end.
This leads American soccer down an interesting, unpredictable road.
Donovan’s just the first. The five-time MLS Cup champion, three-time World Cup veteran, all-time leading scorer in MLS as well as the United States men’s national team nurtured soccer here after he helped make it cool. His retirement from the L.A. Galaxy and MLS at the end of the year is earth-shattering only in that his effect was limitless. It was happening sooner or later. His 2014 was good, but wasn’t necessarily warranting of an All-Star selection.
He was in Portland because he’s Donovan. The dude with the awful bleached hair and the one who made out with a water fountain in a photo shoot. Sports fans in the U.S. knew Donovan before the receding hairline had reached enemy territory, so when a 32-year-old knowingly playing in his last All-Star Game scored the game-winner, it wasn’t much of a surprise.
The phrase "golden generation" is overused in soccer, especially in national team circles. Donovan was the face that ushered soccer into the national spectrum. There were others — Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, Kasey Keller — but the allure of Donovan’s talent and personality made him the guy at the front of the classroom. That generation that burst onto the scene at the 2002 World Cup is much closer to the end than the beginning. Most of the country’s biggest and most marketable names are into their 30s now and question marks for the next World Cup cycle in 2018.
Donovan’s soon-to-be exit is eased a bit by young, proven talent in the American pipeline, both on the international scale in MLS. But the generation headlined by Donovan and Clint Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard that made leaps through various stages of their careers could be done in a few years. Will American soccer have the same appeal worldwide as it does now?
Against rival Mexico and among the Mexican national team fans, he was known as Landon. The name held some water. His stints at Everton and Bayern Leverkusen and Bayern Munich proved he could play anywhere, but he chose to stay home. In Thursday’s presser he said that was the reason he chose to stay in MLS long term. To help the league and clubs around the country use his name as a successful marketing tool to put fans in the seats or glued to the couch.
American soccer has to say goodbye to the most talented and successful and even entertaining player it has ever produced. When the referee blows the final whistle, signaling the end of the Galaxy’s year, Donovan will take off his jersey and clap for the fans, just like he’s always done.
What comes next — and more importantly who — will be hold the most intrigue.