Donovan's emotional 'first' game back
CARSON, Calif. -- For the past two weeks, Landon Donovan's emotional hyperdrive had been operating at the speed of light. When Donovan announced this past Thursday that he planned to retire at the end of the season, he spoke of the excitement and relief at making a decision he had been pondering for some time.
But before, during and after the L.A. Galaxy's 2-2 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday, the magnitude of the decision began to sink in. Donovan's days as a professional soccer player are melting away, and the end of his career can now be espied from a distance.
"Today, during the day, I had my first real moment of sadness," he said in an exclusive interview in the Galaxy locker room. "I was sitting around and started reminiscing. I hadn't really done that yet because I've just been caught up in everything that's been going on, and the excitement around it."
Donovan said that the wave of nostalgia wasn't triggered by a specific memory. Rather, it was the outpouring of support from close friends and even distant acquaintances.
"It all just caught up finally," he said. "I'm getting lots of texts and messages and stuff like that. People are saying just really nice things, people you don't realize you've had an impact on. For as much stick as I get from people for different things and different reasons, I think I'm realizing I'm having a positive impact on people. That's nice to know, because you don't realize that sometimes."
It wasn't a night for storybook endings, though. The Galaxy huffed and puffed to break down a resolute San Jose side, and, although L.A. eventually broke through with goals by Gyasi Zardes and Omar Gonzalez, it wasn't enough to completely undo the damage of two transition tallies by Quakes striker Chris Wondolowski and San Jose newcomer Matias Perez Garcia. The second Quakes goal in particular grated, coming as it did off a Donovan turnover, although there was no denying the quality of Perez Garcia's strike.
Galaxy manager Bruce Arena gave Donovan solid marks, and his teammates insisted there were no outward differences in the Galaxy icon's play compared with his performances before Thursday. But Donovan admitted that the emotion of the week took something of a toll on his game.
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"I think the lack of preparation this week, everything that went into [Thursday], I felt energized, but I wasn't sharp," Donovan told reporters. "I gave away a lot of passes that I'm not accustomed to giving away. I hope that I can have some time now to chill out a little bit and get away."
After the final whistle, Donovan had a much more positive kind of giveaway. He found himself standing near Wondolowski, and the two now former international teammates exchanged jerseys and embraced. It was fitting. They are brothers from a summer of disappointment, although for differing reasons; Wondolowski for the chance he missed in the round of 16 defeat against Belgium, Donovan for never getting the opportunity to play in Brazil at all.
"I made sure to sprint over there first," Wondolowski joked. "No, I just happened to be next to him. It was just one of those things. [Donovan's jersey] is something I've wanted for many years. I feel honored that he would even trade with me."
Donovan indicated that, after this year's World Cup, he had reached out to Wondolowski to commiserate. Donovan suffered through a painful World Cup performance of his own in 2006, when he crumbled under the weight of leading the U.S. attack. He knew what Wondolowski was going through.
"People don't understand what it's like to be in those situations, and how disappointing that can be because we spend our whole lives preparing for these moments," he said as he stood in the nearly empty Galaxy locker room. "We can sympathize with each other and understand what that's all about.
"People are very quick to be critical, but they forget we are human beings, and we feel those things more than they do. As frustrated as other people are, we're more frustrated. It was a nice moment. It was good to see him, and I'm really proud of him and how he's handled it and how he's moved on after a difficult time."
The two former teammates will have one more chance to square off when L.A. and San Jose meet at Buck Shaw Stadium on Sept. 14. But, like Donovan, Wondolowski is reluctant to begin counting down the days.
"Donovan is a class act, and an even better guy off the field, as well," he said. "I hope for his happiness, and he knows what he's doing, but I'll be a bit bummed because I'll miss playing against him."
He won't be the only one.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.