By IVES GALARCEP
So he isn’t finished with the U.S. Men’s National Team after all.
Okay, let’s face it, it was probably a stretch to think that Landon Donovan would never play for the United States again because of his decision to not return to soccer until late March, and thereby missing key qualifiers vs. Costa Rica and Mexico. That said, it still has to be very encouraging to USMNT fans to hear Donovan tell a group of USC journalism students on Wednesday night that he would like to return to the national team at some point.
What everyone wanted to hear: “Yes, I do have an interest in playing for the USMNT again, if given the opportunity, I would”
— Jesse Xiao (@Xman818) February 21, 2013
Donovan’s statement, and the very revealing comments he made during his speech on Tuesday sounded like the statements of someone who is making progress in his search for inner peace. And they sound like those of a player who is moving closer to returning to his important place on both the U.S. National Team and Los Angeles Galaxy.
There is certainly still some resentment among some U.S. fans over the fact Donovan is going to be missing key games, but it might be time for everyone to accept the reality that Donovan had to go through this period of introspection in order to continue with a career that has carried a heavier emotional and psychological burden than we ever realized.
Even if you don’t buy any of the psycho-analytical stuff, and care just about his exploits on the field, you still have to appreciate the fact he is coming back to the Galaxy in a month, and stands a very good chance of being a part of the U.S. National Team for qualifying in June. He will come back rested physically, and we can only hope refreshed mentally.
When you consider what lies ahead in the next two years, the extra time off just might be what helps Donovan return to the form he enjoyed during the 2010 World Cup cycle. He will be taking part in his fourth World Cup cycle, and potentially his fourth World Cup, and while he is no longer the best player on the national team, he remains an important figure who is sorely needed on a team that just isn’t capable of replacing him just yet.
If anything, Donovan’s speech on Wednesday gave us a much-needed glimpse into where his mind is these days, and it is encouraging. Last year Donovan sounded like someone who had fallen out of love with the game, someone who had lost their desire to play. Now we have a much clearer sense that Donovan’s struggles were as much about his life in general as it was about where soccer fits into it.
In the end, Donovan doesn’t owe a thing to any of us. He has put in his time with the national team, played in some of the biggest games in USMNT history, and has scored some of the biggest goals and helped deliver some of the most important wins in history. He has earned the right to take time dealing with his own demons.
The irony is that it is those very accomplishments that have so many U.S. fans irate at his absence. We have grown so accustomed to his presence, his greatness, his contributions, that the mere thought of losing out on those things for any reason other than injury, or old age, is inconceivable. You have heard it plenty of times. How dare Donovan take for granted something that any player (or fan) would kill for the chance to have. The chance to be a part of the national team, and be a part of vital World Cup qualifiers.
That is where we too often get it wrong about Donovan. Comparing him to other U.S. players, or even international players. Yes, other players have experienced what he has as a player. Others have carried the burden of being a country’s brightest star. What others haven’t done is be Landon Donovan, live his exact life. Carrying the burdens of an emotionally turbulent childhood, and of a lost relationship with his father (only recently re-established), and the emotional scars of a failed marriage and the painful reality that he made mistakes that forever changed his fate.
None of us know what it is like to be Landon Donovan, person and player. All we can do is wait and hope that Donovan the person finds peace, and Donovan the player finds the motivation to get back on the field for the Galaxy and USMNT.