It’s fair to say that Landon Donovan and the US soccer public have always had a complicated relationship.
When he burst onto the scene all those years ago, everything about Donovan screamed insecure. He was talented – very talented – but every time he ripped off his shirt in a goal celebration, showed up with bleached hair, or fled from Europe defeated and craving the comfort of home, US Soccer reeled too.
Donovan emerged as the United States’ first potential superstar just as soccer – not the sport as a whole, but the distinct idea of American soccer – was flowing into the nation’s consciousness.
Back then, of course, it was little more than a niche that was taking more lumps than it deserved, and so there was a desperate need to see Donovan succeed.
We wanted him to be everything. And he wasn’t.
So the Landycakes theme emerged. The narrative about Donovan being soft, and Donovan being coddled, and Donovan throwing away his career in MLS gained traction.
Tucked away in those jabs at Donovan were American soccer’s own insecurities. We wanted a genius who wasn’t so tortured. Someone who wasn’t so complicated for our often self-loathing soccer culture to unreservedly point to as the best in the world.
But Donovan always has been, and still very much is, a human being first and a soccer player second. Why else would he be retiring as he’s playing his best soccer at the relatively sprightly age of 32?
That’s what Jurgen Klinsmann could never figure out.
It’s hard not to walk away from this final salvo thinking that by the time he came back from his sabbatical, Donovan was too good for Klinsmann.
Baffled by a player who left the game of soccer to find happiness and salvation, Klinsmann didn’t try to understand Donovan. He just ran away from him.
A coach who can’t figure out how to connect with his best and most valuable player isn’t much of a coach.
And that’s where Klinsmann, who divided each compliment of Donovan with a caveat this week, stands right now.
It will be interesting to see in the coming years how angry Donovan becomes over his 2014 World Cup snub. With the circus that was this summer, his retirement, and his final season with the Galaxy, Donovan has hardly had time to slow down and think about what was done to him.