Q&A with Landon Donovan
Donovan cites his goal against Algeria as his favorite moment
Donovan would be happy with either Klinsmann or Bradley as U.S. coach
Donovan would like to see Spain beat the Netherlands in the World Cup final
JOHANNESBURG -- Landon Donovan is on the line from California. It's just after dawn on the West Coast of the United States, which is symbolic in a way, considering a new phase is dawning in Donovan's career after his standout performance at this World Cup. Donovan scored three goals in South Africa, including the one to beat Algeria that many are calling the biggest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Donovan's star power in America took a giant leap over the past month. So what comes next?
In a 30-minute conversation, Donovan addressed a number of topics, including his views of the U.S.'s World Cup, his New York City media tour, the U.S. coaching situation, Jürgen Klinsmann, his interest in a potential move to Europe, his desire for instant replay in soccer officiating and his preference for who will win the World Cup final on Sunday:
SI.com: Now that you've had some time think about the U.S.' World Cup performance, what are the things that stand out to you?
Donovan: This team was as good as any at persevering. Where we fell short a little bit was it seemed like in every game we made a couple mistakes, and when you do that in qualifying or in friendlies you don't always get punished. When you do it at the World Cup, more often than not you're going to get punished. So if we were a little cleaner in some of our play, not only would we have I think beaten Ghana and had a good chance against Uruguay, but we also would have done better in the group stage. I think we had a real chance to beat England. I think we should have beaten Slovenia. We could have done a better job beating Algeria. So in theory it was a tournament where we could have won every game, which is pretty crazy to say, but that's the reality.
SI.com: Do you think going out in the Round of 16 is a reasonable representation of where the U.S. is now?
Donovan: Yeah. I think what we are right now is we're a team that if we're in a group that's viable then we should advance out of our group. Obviously 2006 was difficult, and this year in theory was a little easier. And then from there we're a team that's maybe going to win half of our Round of 16 games and lose half of our Round of 16 games. That's probably exactly where we are. So it's probably accurate. If we were any better, we wouldn't have made the little mistakes we made and we would have gone further.
SI.com: What was your favorite moment personally of this World Cup?
Donovan: Obviously the goal against Algeria was a big moment. My favorite memory from that goal was turning the corner and looking up and seeing first Stuart Holden's face running toward the corner flag, followed by like 30 people including staff and coaches and everyone, and just kind of meeting at the corner flag to celebrate. That was a really cool moment. And then the bus ride home was really special too after that.
SI.com: Anything specific about the bus ride?
Donovan: Songs, chants. When you go through a process like that and you finally achieve something that you've wanted so badly, there's a relief, but then there's a real pure, genuine joy that everyone could really enjoy. It was really nice.
SI.com: The other day Uruguay played the Netherlands in the semis. Did you feel like that could have been the U.S. taking on the Dutch in the World Cup semifinal?
Donovan: Yeah, I thought about that a lot. That was definitely possible. The Netherlands are a good team, but we've said a lot of times that we can compete with any of these teams, so we know that. All of us felt a little bit disappointed that it wasn't us there and thought about what might have been.
SI.com: Which U.S. player or two impressed you the most during this World Cup?
Donovan: I thought Michael Bradley had a really, really good tournament. And I've seen this over the years, but to see it up close game after game after game and see the competitiveness and just the pure will to win in Clint Dempsey was really evident, and I was really impressed. Not only do people see it in games, but it's every day in training. He just has something in him that continues to push him and push him.
SI.com: Would it be possible to give me an honest assessment of the talent on this U.S. soccer team right now?
Donovan: I think we have a lot of guys who are at that level [and] pretty decently talented. We have a few guys who are exceptionally talented who can make special plays. I think where we're still a little bit behind some other countries is just our pure soccer knowledge and our savvy on the field. That takes time and generations that have watched soccer growing up, played the game growing up. A lot of our guys, including me, didn't really follow the game in a real way until our teens, where kids are watching from the time they're five in other countries and understand what to do in certain situations and how to play. As far as our will and determination, there's not many teams that can match that, so once the talent continues to improve and the soccer knowledge and savvy gets better, we're going to have a real chance to win a World Cup.
SI.com: You did a big media tour in New York City after returning to the States. Any good behind-the-scenes stories from doing those shows?
Donovan: I got to meet Kelly Ripa's husband and son -- and that's a handsome-ass dude. They were really nice. I got to say hi to Dolly Parton, which my mom thought was kind of cool. One thing that was my favorite part of the whole week, which maybe not many people saw, was MTV put me on with a group of 200 high school kids that are exceptional at serving their communities. I got to speak to them for probably 20 minutes or so and did a Q&A. I was really impressed with how engaged and how attentive they were, how smart their questions and answers were. It was a good thing to come back and see that you inspired people.
SI.com: Are you now being viewed publicly in the U.S. in a different way than you were before this World Cup?
Donovan: I haven't been out a lot yet. The one thing that was really clear to me was I've heard the same comment from almost everybody: Thank you for inspiring our country. It gives me goose bumps to say it. You've been around us for a long time and you know this is what we do. It's our job, what we do for a living. So we don't think of it in that way. It was my job to continue running and get in front of the goal and hit a six-yard shot into the goal with an empty net. So for me it's an easy play, something that happens over and over in my career. But the reality for everybody else is that was a moment where people could get away from everything, get behind their country and their team and went from--as I saw in the [YouTube] videos -- devastation to pure joy in one moment. Everybody has said, "Thank you for inspiring us." People I've known for a long time have sent me letters and presents saying, "Thank you so much for allowing me to share that moment with my kids or my granddad." It's just really cool.
SI.com: Your star power has increased. In what ways would you like to use that increased star power from this tournament?
Donovan: I've said for a long time that I have a lot more to give than just on a soccer field, and this is going to give me that opportunity. As you can imagine there's all sorts of different opportunities that are coming. But it's also nice to be choosy and picky and do the things I want to do, like speaking to those kids. Those kinds of things for me are fulfilling. Obviously there will be opportunities to quote-unquote "cash in" and things like that which are good from a personal standpoint, but there's a lot of opportunities now I think I'll have that I didn't have before the tournament started.
SI.com: I heard that "Dancing with the Stars" might be interested in you. Any update?
Donovan: There's no update. If they send us something concrete, then I'll think about it. But I'm a soccer player first. Don't forget that.
SI.com: How many more World Cups do you think you have in you, and do you think you can still be one of the U.S.' top players in 2014 and beyond?
Donovan: It's hard to know. We'll see how my body holds up. If I can do it physically, I think I can still be a top player. I know mentally what I'm capable of now. I think there's still a lot more room for me to grow mentally, and if I can keep up physically then I'll do it. I do a really good job taking care of my body. I'm on my way now to see a structural alignment person to get my body back to the way it's supposed to be. If I can continue that, then I'm going to play as long as I can. I'd love to play in another World Cup. You never know, maybe another two.
SI.com: U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said recently that he'll talk to players about your experiences inside the team in South Africa and ask what you think of the coaching situation moving forward. Have you talked to him? And what are your thoughts on those things?
Donovan: We spoke briefly after the tournament, just about the tournament in general. We didn't get into Bob [Bradley] too much. Obviously that's why Sunil is there, to make those decisions. My personal opinion is we have grown a lot since Bob has been here. I know it's easy for people afterward to point blame and say you should have played this guy and done this and why did you do that? The reality is that we all believed and bought into what Bob is doing, and that's why we were successful. If Bob is around I think everyone will be very happy. If Bob's not around because he wants to leave or because U.S. Soccer wants to hire a new coach, I think everyone is fine with that too. But at this point it's a decision between them. I was certainly someone who grew a lot under Bob's guidance.
SI.com: You've never had a foreign coach during your time on the U.S. team. Have you ever thought about what that would be like?
Donovan: I'm a little skeptical of foreign coaches in our league and in U.S. Soccer just because of how different our league is and our players are than other players around the world. So in theory sometimes it sounds sexy to have a guy like Ruud Gullit or in this case, who knows? You could bring in [Fabio] Capello and I'm not sure you would get the results you wanted because there's so much to our league and our players than people realize. So it would be a little risky to do that unless you find the right person who really cares and understands and wants to learn about our league and our players.
SI.com: You've worked with Jürgen Klinsmann at Bayern Munich. Could you envision working with him again on the U.S. team?
Donovan: I had a really good experience with Jürgen. I like Jürgen a lot. I know his name gets thrown around a lot and was before Bob was hired. We'll see. If Bob's here I will be very happy. Jürgen was a guy I like a lot and respected. If he were hired I'd also be happy.
SI.com: You've just rejoined the L.A. Galaxy, which has lost only one game in MLS all season. The European transfer window is upon us. Would you be interested in transferring to a European team?
Donovan: I'm interested in anything that comes my way. I would always listen to any offers or any interest. The beauty of that now is I don't have to worry about it affecting me or how I play or my mindset. If that comes up one day and we have a game the next day, then I can deal with something one day and be completely ready for the game the next day. So I'll take it as it comes. My guess would be that we'll hear something from some folks at some point, but if not I love being here and I love being part of this team, and that's not going to change.
SI.com: Do you know of any offers on the table at this point?
Donovan: Not yet, no.
SI.com: There has been a lot of controversy over officiating at this World Cup. How would you like to see things change, whether it's goal-line technology or instant replay or additional officials?
Donovan: I think it's time that something happens, because the game is just too fast. A lot of people don't say that, but that's the reality. Things are happening too fast for everyone to catch it. I say this over and over, there's a lot of times in the game where I don't know what happens, other guys on the field don't know what happens. So if we're not even seeing it, how can you expect the referees to see it? So either you need more eyes on the field to see everything, or you need some form of a replay to get calls right. I don't think it's that difficult to have someone upstairs watching the game and watching replays. Obviously all the referees have the buzzers and earpieces on them. Take the Germany-England game when [Frank] Lampard scores. The minute it hits and they see a replay in 20 seconds upstairs, they buzz the ref, they take time for literally a minute and say, "We just watched the replay seven times, it's a 100-percent goal. You've got to call it a goal." And within a minute and a half or two minutes, it's a goal and the game is called correctly. I don't think anybody would be opposed to that.
SI.com: What do you want to see happen in the World Cup final on Sunday?
Donovan: I would like to see Spain win. I like the way the Holland plays, but I think for so long Spain has played the right way. You want that to be rewarded because you want that to be emulated by young players, by other teams. You don't want a team that just bunkers in for 90 minutes to win it. To that point it would be fine to see the Netherlands win too, but I just hope Spain wins.
SI.com: You were at Bayern Munich with Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel. Have you got any good Van Bommel stories?
Donovan: Oh my God, that guy's psycho, man. Honestly, I'm shocked that guy hasn't had 15 yellow cards in this tournament. And somehow, some way he gets away with all these little fouls that he would do in training when I was there. In all the games he gets away with it. But I'll tell you something about the guy: He's an absolute winner. Everywhere he's gone he's won. And you can't take that away from him.
SI.com: After all the anguish you dealt with after the 2006 World Cup how different is this feeling for you?
Donovan: Night and day. And not because people said I played poorly in that tournament and said I played well in this tournament, but because at the end of it all I can look myself in the mirror and know that I did everything I could to help do something special, and when the moment came I took advantage of it. If you think about it, this year I've only scored one goal in the league in 10 or 11 games before we left. But I was really proud of myself because when it really mattered, when we needed something special, I was be really present in the moment and take advantage of it. That's what made this World Cup special for me.
SI.com: Last one: Are you glad you won't have to hear a vuvuzela for a long, long time?
Donovan: Yeah, I am. [Laughs] Now that I'm home watching I can hear it so clearly. When I'm in the other room at Home Depot and the game's about to start, they go to the announcers and immediately you hear that numb tone in the background. It's ridiculous. I heard also that some people started blowing them in baseball games, so I'm hoping it doesn't catch on here.