Calling Landon Donovan "one of a kind" can be taken as either praise or criticism, or in the unusual case of his departing cameo from the United States men's national team, neither.
Because Donovan's farewell bow – which will come against Ecuador in a friendly on October 10 in East Hartford, Conn. – will never be repeated.
Not by him obviously. This will be thank you and goodnight after 157 games and 14 years. But in all likelihood the testimonial nature of his selection won't be replicated for anyone else, not any time soon or years into the future.
As evidenced by the recent World Cup, American soccer is growing up and Donovan represents a generational bridge between a sentimental past and a more ruthless and demanding future. Under Jurgen Klinsmann, things are hard-nosed enough that Donovan got dumped from the World Cup squad despite his long service and status as arguably the best American player of all time.
That wouldn't have happened for prior tournaments. The Los Angeles Galaxy forward's reputation and record would have been enough to get him onto the 23-man roster.
As time moves on and the national team program gets tougher and steelier and the U.S. starts to see itself as a team that should belong alongside some of the world's best, gentle nods to past success like Donovan's impending swansong at Rentschler Field, will likely also be relegated to yesteryear.
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That's how it is for the most part in other countries. The circle of international life moves inexorably and waits for no man.
There is no question that allowing Donovan one more chance to don the Red, White and Blue, whether it was of Klinsmann's own volition or followed a nudge in that direction from the national federation, is a nice thing – a heart-warmer or whatever your view of the player.
Just like Donovan's appearance at the MLS All-Star Game, his USMNT finale will be a show, presumably complete with a presentation, handshakes all round and a few tears. And if the script aligns with the soccer gods, maybe even a dramatic goal will cap it all off.
Donovan, who will formally end his career at the end of the current MLS season, was never a world-beater, but his efforts for the U.S. are not to be sniffed at. It can be argued that he deserves one more chance to be on parade and that the fans have equally earned the right to wish him well as he prepares for a new chapter of life.
Either argument has validity. But it is also surely the last time this will happen for the U.S. national team, at least in this manner. If another player is permitted a swansong even when it is clear he plays no role in the program's future, it would be a surprise, especially if it were announced in such a pre-emptive fashion like this with a full six weeks before that actual event.
The announcement has a whiff of public relations shtick about it, and while a dose of hype and hyperbole never hurt too much, that's not what the U.S. national team is about now and will be even less so moving forward.
There are greater demands now. The U.S. has matured enough in soccer that reaching the round of 16 in the World Cup is now only just acceptable. Next time around, getting to the quarterfinals will be the par score.
Like in other countries where soccer is eternally entrenched, the U.S. national team is starting to become an ever-evolving instrument, one that flows continually from one cycle to another. It is on a path to becoming one where a turnover of personnel is simply part of the process, however long the loyalty and however cherished the individual.
For Landon Donovan, October's game will be part of his long goodbye to American soccer, one that started when he revealed his retirement plans three weeks back. For others, the departure will be shorter and with less fanfare.
And it'll be just part of the process, part of the evolution.
- Sports & Recreation
- Landon Donovan