Breaking news here on Made Man: Landon Donovan, arguably the greatest American soccer player ever, just announced he’s retiring at the end of the 2014 MLS season. Obviously, this comes as quite a shock. It seems like just yesterday he was taking home the MLS All-Star Game MVP honors. Because he was. In honor of this historic announcement, here’s another look at an exclusive interview we did with the 32-year-old footballer leading up to this summer’s World Cup. Thanks for the memories, Lando…
As you might’ve heard, Landon Donovan didn’t make the United States’ World Cup roster for Brazil next month. Which is kinda strange, because Donovan isn’t that old—32—and he’s still one of the two or three best players in the country. Even first-team U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said as much recently. (And yeah, he’s also the all-time U.S. leader in goals and assists, the most recognizable American player and the scorer of that huge goal against Algeria four years ago.) But apparently U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants to go in another direction. It’s his prerogative and he’ll have to live with the results.
Anyhoo, we bring this up because, about a month ago, we sat down with Donovan for a one-on-one interview at an upscale sports bar in Manhattan. It was a promotional event for the Skin Cancer Foundation—Donovan’s father is a skin cancer survivor—that gave us a chance to ask about the National Team and the World Cup, for a Q&A we could post during the run-up to the tournament kickoff on June 12th.
The interview is below, and it’s interesting now for a few reasons. One, it’s clear that Donovan, like most fans, was confident he’d be making the plane to Brazil. Also, he still offers up some good advice about what to say while watching the World Cup and how to handle your kids’ interest in soccer, if you have kids and if they’re interested in soccer. Finally, he has a pretty funny answer to the question about soccer shorts getting tighter.
That’s it, enjoy the interview, and good luck to the U.S. next month against (gulp) Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Who knows, maybe Klinsmann will prove everyone wrong and 18-year-old Julian Green will net a hat trick against the Germans. Yeesh, that sounds about as plausible as Donovan having more World Cup goals than Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi combined. Oh wait…
“Mexico owes us big-time. I read somewhere that the fact that they are going to Brazil is, all in all, a six-hundred-million-dollar economic boom for their economy. So I think a little kickback would be appropriate.”
You’re here on behalf of Sun Blunders, a public awareness campaign for proper sun protection. Does that mean you’ll be wearing sunscreen in Brazil, and if so, what SPF?
You think? Yeah. We play one game in Manaus, which is the Amazon, super hot, so I think you’re literally playing with fire if you’re not wearing sunscreen. As far as SPF, it depends. Usually in LA, I do a 30, but around a game like that, I’ll probably do a 70. So I just can put it on and not worry about it.
By the way, in the video for the campaign, your dad talks about growing up in Nova Scotia. Does that mean you could have played for Canada, and if so, was that a tough decision for you?
Correct. Nice connection. I actually mention it a lot in interviews, but nobody writes about it. But it wasn’t really a decision.
OK, let’s talk World Cup. What was your first thought when you saw the U.S. was grouped with Ghana, Portugal and Germany?
I watched it live, probably like a lot of people. You’re watching the teams get drawn thinking, “Oh, that would be a tough group … Oh, that looks like not such a tough group.” And then your name gets drawn in the tough group, and there’s this moment where you go, “Oh, wow!” So it was exciting because we get to play three really good teams. But also, on some level you realize how difficult it is. But you want to play the best teams. That’s why you play.
This will be your fourth World Cup. Are they starting to get boring?
It never gets boring. But there is a different feeling around it. When you’re 20 and you’re young and impressionable, you don’t really know what’s going on. Now I won’t go in with as much, like, youthful exuberance as I did before. But I still will appreciate it and enjoy it in a different way.
Is this definitely your last World Cup?
It’s hard to imagine playing four years from now when I can barely get out of bed some mornings, so I think it’s going to be tough. But never say never.
When guys are out at bars watching the World Cup this summer, what’s one thing they can say about a game to impress their friends or sound like they know what they’re talking about?
You could say something like, “Oh, he was definitely offside there.” Or, “They gotta get more width. They’re playing too narrow.”
Be honest: Mexico owes us big-time, right? [Editor’s note: Mexico qualified for the World Cup after the U.S. came back to beat Panama in a match they didn’t need to win.]
Mexico owes us big-time. I read somewhere that the fact that they are going to Brazil is, all in all, a six-hundred-million-dollar economic boom for their economy. So I think a little kickback would be appropriate.
Who are your favorite players to watch?
I love watching Messi play. His balance, the way he moves, he’s just so smooth and he makes it look effortless. He gets in situations I’ve been in a hundred times in my career, and I know how difficult it is, and then [snaps] he’s out of it so easily. When you see it happen in that way and you can relate to it, it’s so impressive to watch.
“So, this bus you’re throwing me under, is it parked in front or out back?”
What’s your advice for guys with young kids that are starting to play soccer? How should they handle being a soccer dad?
For me it was always about having fun. When I got home from school, my mom or dad never said, “Go outside and play soccer.” Or, “We’re going to soccer practice.” I got home, once my homework was done, I had the ball and I was outside. And I enjoyed it. So if you’re a parent, if you can take that pressure off, your kid’s going to do whatever they want—whether it’s soccer or playing the violin or running or whatever.
Is it just us, or are soccer shorts getting more snug?
They’re going back in time. See, there was a time when they were tiny. Super tiny. Like, dangerously tiny. And then they went quite long, and now they’re on their way back. So perhaps the powers that be need to be a little bit careful.
Do you think we’re headed back to the 1980s short shorts?
It wouldn’t be an issue for me, but for some of the guys that are more well-endowed, it could be quite the issue.
You’ve been at this soccer thing a while. What excites you these days?
The games still excite me. I’ll still be nervous before the first game in Brazil. I don’t get nervous for most games now, but I still get excited. Being in the locker room before the game and everybody talking and getting ready, and the music’s going and you’re preparing, all of that stuff is still exciting. Showing up at a stadium and seeing the crowd everywhere and people so excited to see you—all that stuff is still very exciting.
If there’s one player on the U.S. team who could have a breakout performance in Brazil, who would that be?
We have a couple younger defenders who have done very well, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. A guy you don’t hear a lot about because he plays in Holland is Aron Johannsson. He’s a clever player, a really good finisher, and I think if he gets some opportunities to get on the field, he can really make a difference.
And finally, Brazil has arguably the hottest fans in the world.
I think that’s safe to say.
Are you worried about being distracted at all?
I’m sure our coaching staff will make sure that we’re not distracted and that we’re kept under wraps, but there’s no question that it’s going to be a beautiful World Cup for many reasons. And I hope they have another one at some point when I’m retired so I can enjoy it as a fan.