Landon Donovan: Depression sparked my LA Galaxy move upon U.S. return
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Landon Donovan says a battle with depression led him to sign with the LA Galaxy from Bayer Leverkusen in 2005 and spurn the San Jose Earthquakes, the team with which he spent his first four MLS seasons.
Donovan made the disclosure at a news conference ahead of ahead of Saturday night's friendly between his new team, Liga MX's Club Leon, and his former side San Jose.
He had previously spoken about his battles with depression around the time of his sabbatical from the game following the 2012 season. But Friday's admission revealed that his struggles had been ongoing for many years prior to that.
Donovan signed with Leverkusen as a 17-year-old in 1999 but a lack of playing time saw him loaned to the Quakes for four campaigns, where he led them to MLS Cup titles in 2001 and 2003. He returned to Leverkusen following the 2004 season but lasted just a few months in Germany.
When he returned to MLS, the league claimed San Jose had traded away its ability to bring him back and a deal was struck instead for him to play with the arch-rivals Galaxy, turning Donovan into a villain in the eyes of San Jose fans.
Donovan revealed there was more to the move than simply wanting to play for a team closer to his Southern California roots.
"At that point in my life -- and I've spoken openly about my battles with depression -- I was in a pretty bad place, and it was important for me to be close to my family," Donovan said at the news conference.
"I think for people who are just seeing it purely from a sporting perspective, I can understand that they were disappointed and upset, and I can understand their anger. But I've always chosen to do what's important for me personally, and that my health and well-being come before anybody else's opinion of what decisions I'm making."
Later, in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC, Donovan went into more detail about that period in his life and his experiences.
"The thing about depression that people don't understand is there's not always a reason," he said. "There wasn't a reason for it. It's just the way I was feeling.
"I was careful not to just react quickly because all of a sudden, one day I wasn't feeling very great. But it was over the course of a few months where I was really struggling. [It took place] partially in Germany and then partially here, but I just needed to be near my family and I was fortunate that it was able to happen.
"Most athletes don't have that choice so I was fortunate it was able to happen. It was a difficult time."
Donovan's first visits back to San Jose as a member of the Galaxy were difficult. One group of fans even went so far as to make a pinata in his likeness, though that wasn't as tough as what came later.
"What I remember more than the pinata was running up the ramp after warm-ups and getting a balled-up t-shirt thrown in my face," he told ESPN FC. "I'll never forget that."
Thirteen years have since passed and while Donovan understands some San Jose fans will never forgive him, he's hoping for a better reception on Saturday.
"I understand where some of the venom comes from," he said. "I hope with some passage of time that people do respect and appreciate what we all did during those four years."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.