He admits he needed something extra to play his best: a big crowd, an important situation, a fired-up teammate—something—to inspire him to play his best. Occasionally even those things would leave him cold.
"I worried about everything but myself," he says. Especially about teammates. "I worried about 'Why isn't he playing? Why isn't he learning this? Why isn't he practicing harder? Why is he leaving early? Why is he doing this?' And you forget about yourself. You're just wasting all this energy."
He was playing well in America—his remarkable speed and skill made him clearly the best player in MLS. But even after a stellar 2002 World Cup in which he scored twice and nearly led the U.S. to an upset of Germany in the quarterfinals, his worldwide reputation didn't match his status at home. He returned to Germany in early 2005 but played just seven games for Leverkusen before arranging a permanent move back to MLS.
Through it all, Donovan didn't feel fulfilled. Two years ago he was quoted in The Beckham Experiment as saying, "I can't think of another guy where I'd say he wasn't a good teammate, he didn't give everything through all this, he didn't still care. But with [Beckham] I'm not so sure. I'd say no, he wasn't committed." The quotes drew global attention, mostly focused on David Beckham and his rocky start with the Galaxy. But Donovan wondered what those comments said about himself.
"I've always thought the world was a certain way," he said. "And in the last year or so I've learned that I was seeing it all wrong. It's like I lived in this glass house. And after I threw a lot of rocks, I realized that the world is a different place than I thought."
It is not good to be too free. It is not good to have everything one wants.
—BLAISE PASCAL, French mathematician and child prodigy
Landon Donovan talks about the "aha" moments of his recent life, moments when things became clear for him. There is one morning he thinks about a lot. He was with Bianca Kajlich, his wife at the time (they were married on New Year's Eve 2006 and divorced in mid-2009), grumbling about having to take a road trip, grumbling about his role with his team, just grumbling. Kajlich, a budding actress struggling to make her career, snapped.
Donovan: "She looked at me and said, 'Do you have any idea how much I would give to be able to do those things you do, to be able to do what I love? And you take it for granted.' She was right. I did take it for granted.
"I always worked very hard on the game, but, you know, soccer came pretty easily to me. I had to realize and accept that I do have great responsibility. It's not just because I'm immensely talented and blessed with a gift physically. It's also because of the mental [feel for the game]. It would be horrible of me not to bring that out."