Landon Donovan discusses raising the bar for U.S. soccer

Landon Donovan is arguably the greatest American men’s soccer player of all time. During his time with the United States national team and the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS, Donovan was setting records and bringing more attention to the game than ever before.

Because of his talent and success, Donovan helped to spark a new buzz around the game of soccer in the states.

Recently, Donovan sat down with Campus Sports for the latest episode of our web series, “Time Out.” During the interview, Donovan discussed what it was like raising the bar for U.S. soccer, what life as a retired athlete is like and what the sport needs to continue growing.

“I hopefully helped more the bar along with others, and you want people to keep doing that,” Donovan said. “Soccer is still not a sport that is widely recognized as extremely popular in this country, but we are all trying to do our part.

“In the end, it’s not always about being the best or being the most popular. We just want people to respect it and appreciate it and now we’ve gotten there. When you’re backstage and you’re talking to people and they tell you how much they respect the sport, they know what’s going on, know about Major League Soccer, the national team and all these things and you know you’ve made progress.”

Donovan also had an incredibly successful career in MLS which led to six championships.

Does winning get sweeter every time?

“Well, the first is always the best just like with everything; your girlfriend, your… maybe not your wife,” Donovan joked. “They’re different, but always special. Now that I’ve had a chance to be away from the game for seven or eight months as a retired, old veteran, you look back on them a little differently but the first one is always special and the last one will always stick with me, because it ended up being my last soccer game ever.”

Following his final championship, Donovan decided to hang up his cleats and ended his incredible career. It isn’t always easy going from being a busy athlete to enjoying time off, but Donovan discussed the weight that has been lifted off his shoulders since hanging it up.

“It’s been interesting,” Donovan noted. “It’s not that you wake up and do whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s that you can wake up and do whatever you want, whenever you want. If I leave here and decide I want to drive to Vegas, I can drive to Vegas. I don’t have training tomorrow. Just having that freedom is so relieving mentally.

“The first three or four months I did nothing; no exercise, just traveled, ate, drank and did all these things. Now, I’m just getting to the point where I am starting to have the itch to do something again. As you know, you can’t go through life too long without doing something you are passionate about or something you want to do. I’m in the process of finding what that’s going to be. I have a lot of ideas and I will just keep testing the waters and see what sticks.”

In the end, no one can take away what Donovan did for the game of soccer in the United States, but he knows there can always be more progress.

“[Winning] certainly helps. It sort of accelerates everything, but the reality is it takes slow growth,” Donovan said. “It’s like any industry and any business. Once in a while you get something that is a home run out of the gate, but for most companies, most brands, most industries, it is slow growth and building a fan base.

“In sports, for sure, it’s building a fan base. So, if a million people were die-hard fans ten years ago, now there is five million people. In five years, there will be ten million. Then, they’ll have kids. That’s how you keep the ball rolling.”

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