The goals. The recent sabbatical. The early retirement. The World Cup snub. The goals. There’s so many trite talking points when waxing on Landon Donovan, the all-time leading goalscorer for the US Men’s National Team. For the past few months, I’ve purposely kept away from the topic to gather my thoughts and hopefully pen something different. Long-time fans will recall the criticism Donovan received as the “kid who couldn’t hack it in Europe” when he returned from Bayern Leverkusen to San Jose. This belief was given further credence when Donovan and team USA failed to advance out of the group stages at Germany ’06. Yet after 2010, fans made peace with Donovan. In 2014, may were even sad when he was left off the roster (despite no role in qualifying).
Still, what’s always most fascinated me about Donovan is not the sport, but rather his personal side. No, I don’t speak about the trite “not motivated” debate about whether “his head is in the game.” Rather, I refer to the weird anecdotes and incidents that popped up about him during his professional career. Many of these went beyond the typical “celebritydom gossip” to really make one ask: WTF? Here are some of my favs.
The water fountain picture
Never has a NY Times Mag photo shoot gone so bad, so quickly, and for so many. So many images in this picture say so many different things. The water screams “I’m cold and refreshing”, yet Donovan’s not-quite-ring-finger ring whispers “I’m available but insecure.” Lastly, the polka dot purple dress shirt says “I’m color blind” or “I learned to dress from my eternal-bachelor dad.”
And this picture was just the beginning.
The Beckham Experiment
With his disarming smile and “one of the guys” demeanor, it’s tough not to dish up the secrets to Grant Wahl. Still, Donovan learned an important lesson the hard way: don’t seriously diss your teammates to a veteran Sports Illustrated journalist writing a book on said teammate. Over a pizza at some place in Malibu, Donovan revealed his anger at losing the captaincy to Beckham and also questioned Becks’ commitment to the team. Both of these points were valid: but they should have been brought up in the locker room and face-to-face.
The game-winning goal dedication
No US fan will ever forget Donovan’s clutch game-winning goal vs. Algeria. After draws with England and Adriatic power Slovenia, the US team needed three points. And Donovan’s lightning quick reaction to a rebound served up the win. Still, afterwards, he dedicated the goal to his soon-to-be ex wife Blanca Kajlich. Landon said a divorce “doesn’t have to be nasty”, but then insisted the actress pay him alimony. I know those MLS salaries aren’t so hot, but……
The paternity non-dispute
Donovan had a dazzling loan spell at English club Everton. His pace and willingness to take on outside backs earned him plaudits and he also knocked in a few goals. However, off the field, rumors circulated that he had a love-child with a woman from the UK. These rumors turned out to be untrue, but, when confronted with the situation, Donovan didn’t deny anything. Instead, he said “if I need to take responsibility, then I will provide the appropriate support.
No paternity testing. No casting doubt on the woman’s credibility or claims. Just a willingness to Western Union that child support ASAP. How can you not love this guy?
Most national teams rent one huge bus to transport players from the team hotel to training and games. Not the US. At least not for the January camp. The NYTimes reported on a weird and kinda endearing quirk of the USMNT: the players drive a couple of minivans. However, during one of these rides, a concerned Kyle Beckerman saw an accident and pulled over to offer a hand. Who knelt beside the car and held the injured and trapped woman’s hand while EMT’s arrived?
The same man who has scored more goals in a US shirt than anybody else. The stats depict a giant, but off the field we got glimpses of Donovan’s frailty and humanity. Cherish both.
IMAGES: New York Times, Three Rivers Press, Telegraph,