We’re barely three months into 2016, but it’s already been a banner year for Landon Donovan. In late January, the all-time leading scorer and assist man for the U.S. Men’s National Team and his wife Hannah celebrated the birth of their first child, a son named Talon Bartell Donovan. (Get those “American Eagle/talon” puns cued up for when the kid gets old enough to play for the U.S.) On Instagram, Donovan wrote, “I’ve been fortunate to achieve a lot of wonderful things in my life but nothing comes close to being a father.”
We’re going to go out on a limb and say that one of those other “wonderful things” is Donovan’s goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. You know, the goal that came in stoppage time in the U.S.’s third and final match of the opening round, to put the team up 1-0 in a game it needed to win to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. The goal that took them from second-to-last in their group to group winners. And you know, the goal that, along with Ian Darke’s elated and amazing “go go USA” call, produced a collective roar from every corner of America that was beautifully captured in that awesomely viral, goosebump-inducing, tears-generating YouTube video.
So with the 2016 MLS season kicking off Sunday, it seemed like a good time to catch up with the 34-year-old (who also owns the records for career goals and assists in that league, and even has his name on the damn MVP trophy) to discuss the glory of that Algeria goal and a host of other topics, including Cristiano Ronaldo, the possibility of a comeback and, of course, skin care.
“I have a lot of people come up to me, still now, and say, ‘I never watched soccer until that game and that moment, and now I’m a fan for life.’ ”
Is there anything left to say about your goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup? What are your thoughts now, some five and a half years later?
Well, I think that as time goes on, I realize the value in what that was. And it’s hard for me to understand because I’ve played this game my whole life. I had been a professional for many, many years before that goal happened. So I’m used to doing my job, and my job in that moment was to be in the right place and help my team score a goal. So for me the actual moment was important because that meant we were advancing to the next round, but it was just what I was supposed to do.
But as time goes on, I realize that we gained a lot of fans that day. I have a lot of people come up to me, still now, and say, “I never watched soccer until that game and that moment, and now I’m a fan for life.” When I hear stuff like that, it makes me realize that we were able to have a really big impact on this country and in our sport and to help it grow, and that to me is really cool.
Is it the play that most people want to talk about with you?
Yeah. I mean, die-hards, who have been in the game for a long time, will talk about other things. But for the general public, that’s the moment they remember. And I’m a huge sports fan. So I get it. And when I’m able to step back and think about that moment, it must have been one of those moments for people where they remember where they were when that happened and what they felt like. And that’s really cool for me because I understand it and I appreciate it as a sports fan.
Do you consider it the best goal of your life?
No. [laughs] Not even close. But I consider it probably the most important.
Is there anything about it that people don’t know?
[long pause] Well, if people weren’t actually watching the game, and they just saw a highlight of it, they probably don’t realize the ups and downs of that game. And what all happened before that. And then people even watching the game don’t realize how important it was to have our team fully understanding of the situation so that guys like myself could hang out and cheat up the field, for lack of a better word, so that we could give ourselves a chance to score.
Because the play that leads to the goal, they cross the ball and there’s a guy wide open heading the ball. And luckily it goes to our goalkeeper, Tim Howard. But normally in that situation, you have seven or eight guys back there defending and you’re playing the way soccer is supposed to be played. But four or five of us were allowed to cheat and take a chance to score because our defenders and Michael Bradley made the conscious decision to say, “We’re just going to sit back and help defend, and you guys go try to get us a goal.” And that’s what’s as important as the goal itself, and I think people forget that.
Switching gears: You hung up your cleats over a year ago now. How’s retirement?
It’s really good actually. It was a little tricky at first because I have this desire to do something because I was so used to doing things. And at the urging of a lot of loved ones in my life, I just took some time and relaxed, and it’s been a really nice year to decompress and get away from the game a little bit and enjoy myself.
What’s the percentage chance of a comeback for you?
Close to zero. I try not to say never. But I think the only scenario I would consider is if it was a life experience or it was something that I couldn’t turn down for some reason. But I’m content with the decision I made. I’m happy that life is the way it is, but you don’t say never because if someone offered me a hundred million dollars to play for a year and the opportunity to travel on a private plane around the world and go see everything I wanted to see, who knows? I think you always keep an open mind. I think the chances of that are probably pretty unlikely.
Well, I’d love to see you out there again. I don’t have any money to pay you.
Maybe I should start a GoFundMe page.
Yeah, a Kickstarter. Kick-restarter.
[laughs] That would be funny actually.
The MLS season starts up again on Sunday, March 6. Care to make an early prediction on who will raise the MLS Cup trophy?
I think Portland are a very good team. I don’t think it was a fluke they won it last year. I think Columbus, who were in the final, are also very good. I think New York, the Red Bulls, are a terrific team that will only get better. And then the Galaxy are always contenders. They spend the money, they have the resources, and they treat their players the right way. That always gives them a chance to win. So those are the four teams I would pick right now.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, because 10 years ago this would have never even been a thought, but I think it is now feasible and really possible to have a player like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi be a part of this league.”
What player or players would you love to see the league bring in?
Well, I can’t believe I’m saying this, because 10 years ago this would have never even been a thought, but I think it is now feasible and really possible to have a player like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi be a part of this league. I think there’s a very good possibility that one or both of those guys end up in Major League Soccer, and I think it’s terrific. There’s lots of ways to improve the game. That is one. There’s also lots of other ways. But if you have the ability to bring in players like that, they’re game-changers both on and off the field.
This interview was set up thanks to a hardworking PR person for Neutrogena, which you endorse. So I have to ask, how’s your skincare regimen?
[laughs] Well, as a guy, you understand. There’s this macho culture where we don’t really take care of ourselves, especially our skin and our face. I’ve spent my whole life in the sun. And I never wore sunscreen. I never put on face lotion, face moisturizer. I never washed my face. So it’s been more of an education for me, that that stuff actually matters. And some of it’s vain, right? Like, some of it you just want to look good, but it’s also a healthy thing. Especially with the sunscreen.
Obviously you traveled a lot during your soccer career and probably still get to a fair number of cities. What are five things that a guy should bring with him when he travels?
Neutrogena has an invigorating face wash, which I really like. Because when I get off a plane, I feel disgusting, and so I want to shower and I want to wash my face. I always bring headphones. Phone charger. I generally bring a book. And I bring my notepad folder because sometimes you just want to sit and write, or you think of something and you want to be able to put those things down on paper.
The comeback, think about it. There are a lot of teams out there.
[laughs] Yeah, I will. I’ll think about it.
You’ve never played for a Midwest team. Kansas City has a lot of momentum these days.
We’ll see. You never know.