Landon's Legacy: Donovan Addresses Mentorship, Retirement and World Cup Chances

Jerrad PetersWorld Football Staff WriterApril 16, 2014

PORTLAND, OR - JULY 09:  Landon Donovan #10 of the United States against Belize during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup on July 9, 2013 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

One of these days—perhaps on Saturday against the Vancouver WhitecapsLandon Donovan will become Major League Soccer’s all-time leading goal scorer.

The Los Angeles Galaxy forward has been stumped on 134 tallies since bagging a brace against local rivals Chivas USA last October. While his current dry spell extended to eight matches last weekend (his 40th-minute header narrowly missed the near corner of the Vancouver net), it’s not something he’s worrying about.

In fact, the wait is just part of the process for America’s most iconic footballer, who broke into MLS with the San Jose Earthquakes back in 2001.

“The thing I would be most proud of [upon breaking the record] would be the longevity it takes to do that,” said Donovan, who spoke exclusively to Bleacher Report on Tuesday. “It’s certainly not easy to come on the scene and do well, but it’s much easier to come on the scene and do well for a year or two as opposed to 15 years.”

Having celebrated his 32nd birthday in March, Donovan understands that his range of abilities has changed and will continue to change as he gets older, and it’s an evolution he relishes—particularly when it comes to the United States men’s national team.

A “wide-eyed kid” when he made his FIFA World Cup debut against Portugal in 2002, Donovan was at his peak in both 2006 in Germany and 2010 in South Africa, where his stoppage-time goal against Algeria became a touchstone moment for American football fans.

Donovan scores against Mexico at the 2002 World Cup.
Donovan scores against Mexico at the 2002 World Cup.HA SA-HUN

“I think this time will probably be almost exclusively in a leadership role,” he replied when asked about his involvement in the upcoming tournament in Brazil. “I’m still able to contribute, but in a lot of different ways that I wasn’t able to in the past.”

Donovan admits he doesn’t necessarily have the instinctive merits of a natural-born leader but adds he’s willing to put in the work as he looks to help the young players coming through for both Galaxy and the national team. Citing Gregg Berhalter, Frankie Hejduk and Pablo Mastroeni as his own mentors, he said he hopes to be able to emulate what they did for him in his relationships with younger teammates.

“I think some people innately have leadership qualities, but there’s also a lot to learn, and there are ways you can become a better leader,” he said, adding that he’s trying to learn those things and implement them more.

“I think it’s a natural progression for me, and I think it’s one way I can be very helpful to my teammates.”

If Donovan sounds introspective, even philosophical, about his changing role, it’s likely because he’s in the latter stages of an illustrious career that he admits to taking “day by day.”

“I just want to be respected,” he remarked. “I want to be thought of highly by my teammates and coaches and people around me and fans.”

The former Everton and Bayer Leverkusen playmaker said he doesn’t have a retirement plan in mind but he’ll keep playing football as long as he enjoys it.

“If I stop enjoying it, it’s time to stop,” he said.

One thing Donovan is taking particular pleasure in is his involvement in Samsung’s Galaxy 11 campaign, which also includes the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney.

Part of a fantasy squad assembled by Franz Beckenbauer, Donovan and his teammates will be tasked with facing a team of alien opponents in various commercials released to correspond with the World Cup.

“I got to get dressed up in this crazy anti-alien suit and do photo shoots and video shoots,” he explained. “There was a little acting involved. We don’t usually get to do stuff like that. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

As for the World Cup itself, Donovan insists the United States have the mentality that they are capable of beating any given team on any given day. That said, he is also cautious about a difficult group that pits his side against Germany, Portugal and Ghana.

“The goal for us is to get out of the group,” he said. “We’re certainly not at a stage where we can realistically say ‘we are definitely getting out of our group’ or ‘we are definitely going to win the World Cup.’ Any time we get out of the group, I think that’s a big accomplishment. And that’s what our goal will be.”