Landon Donovan Interview Part II
by Paul Oberjuerge
In the second half of my session with Landon Donovan, he answers more questions about the World Cup qualifying process, his place as an elder statesman — at age 27 — with the U.S. national team and the teams he sees as favorites to win the championship at South Africa 2010.
He also responds to questions about the apparent breakup of his marriage to Bianca Kajlich, the “Rules of Engagement” actress, and his professional future. A return to MLS, or more time in Europe? On loan? On transfer?
Paul Oberjuerge: How comfortable are you about the U.S. finishing in the top three of Concacaf qualifying and getting a guaranteed berth in South Africa 2010?
Landon Donovan: I’m comfortable. What we don’t want is to have it come down to the last game, but that being said if we have a home game against Costa Rica (Oct. 14) to go to the World Cup, I still like our chances. Candidly, that’s a game that we would need to be able to win if we want to go to the World Cup. It would be nice to do it in Honduras, and we should, but if it comes down to the last day, then we’ll do what we need to do to qualify.
Q: Has this qualifying cycle been more difficult than previous ones?
A: They’re all different, and they’re all difficult. Last time it seemed easy because we qualified, I think, after seven games, but it doesn’t mean that the games weren’t difficult along the way. It wasn’t like we walked through it. What’s a little different this time is that we have a very young team and a team that hasn’t experienced these games a lot. And games that you normally win, maybe you tie, and a game you might tie now you lose, and that makes a big difference in this whole process. We’re learning still. But I think all things being equal that we’ve done a pretty good job, and now we have a chance to seal it with a game to spare.
Q: Did you wake up one day and think that, comparatively speaking, on the national team, “I’m an old guy”?
A: I don’t remember a day, but I would say that at some point in the last year, year-and-a-half, that realization has come upon me. I don’t think old in terms of age, though I am on the U.S. team because we have a very young team. But I think just looking around and seeing all the young faces come in, and even the way some of the young guys act, and what they’re listening to, the iPods, and Facebook all day. These kind of things make you realize there’s a younger generation coming up. It’s exciting, too.
Q: Can you remember when you were one of the new guys, before the 2002 World Cup?
A: I vividly remember those days and what it was like. It’s good to have guys like that because it keeps things fresh. Keeps you hungry. They’re obviously hungry, and we want to keep that and continue to get better and more experienced. When you have that, you can be very good. Definitely.
Q: Was there a match this year, or a couple of them, where you look back and say, “That was when I was at the top of my form”?
A: Even though the results didn’t go great, I think all five of those games in the Confederations Cup, and the game before that, against Honduras, the qualifier, I just felt like I was playing the way I am capable of. That was where … athletes talk about being in a zone, and that was what it felt like, and that’s what it’s felt like ever since. It’s nice.
Q: The maturity thing: How much of that is internal and how much from outside influences?
A: I believe to change as much as I’ve changed the last few years you have to do it yourself. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people along the way who help and sometimes point things out. You talk to people and other people give you an opinion of yourself you might not have seen or been aware of. But at the end of the day you’ve got to make the right decisions to run your life and I think I’m making the right decisions now.
Q: Turning points? The 2006 World Cup and last year’s Galaxy season?
A: It’s been a gradual process. Just along the way, I think, you have “aha” moments when things start to click. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be soccer-related. Just sometimes things will happen the same way 10 times in a row and you don’t notice it, and the 11th time something clicks in your head and you realize something and a lot of those things have happened, really, in the last year.
Q: What is the time line for what you hope to do during the winter?
A: The time line right now is to get through the end of this year. Obviously the goal is to win an MLS Cup and qualify for the World Cup, and then when the winter comes evaluate where I am and what I want to do going forward. The realities of my situation here, I could come to the conclusion at the end of the year that I want to go to Europe and the Galaxy might say “we have two more option years and we’re going to keep you here for two years.” So it might be a moot point.
Q: Would you be interested in another loan situation, similar to the three months you spent with Bayern Munich at the start of the year?
A: I’d be interested in anything at this point. Obviously, a lot of things have changed for me this year, professional and personally. Once the season’s over I can probably evaluate everything and see how I want to move forward. There’s been just so many games, and it’s been nonstop. I really haven’t had time to stop and think about it.
Q: When looking at the upcoming World Cup, are there two or three teams you think will be playing deep in the tournament?
A: We had good experiences with Brazil and Spain. It’s hard to see those two not getting far. They’re just so overwhelming in the way they play. Certainly uplifting to see how we performed against them. But you think that over a long tournament not only with their first 11 players, but the depth they have on their teams and how they can wear teams down. It’s hard not to see them doing well. Those would be my two for sure.
Q: Would it be weird without Argentina in the World Cup?
A: It would be very weird, but usually it happens where one of the powers don’t make it. That’s why I tell people all the time that qualifying is not easy. No matter where you are or who you’re playing against.
Q: Do you believe people understand how difficult and strange Concacaf qualifying can be?
A: No. There’s no way people not familiar with it can know.
Q: Would you like to be in Europe a year from now?
A: I honestly don’t know right now. I can honestly say I don’t know. There’s parts of me that say yes. There’s parts of me that say I still enjoy being here and I stil enjoy being a part of what this league is doing.
Q: Will you and David Beckham both be here a year from now?
A: I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
Q: Would you bet a dollar?
A: That’s a good question. Honestly, my guess right now is that David will be. He said that he wants to come back after the World Cup, if he goes somewhere (in Europe in early 2010). With me, I don’t know.
Q: So there’s a better chance you will be gone than David?
A: Well, David has already said that he wants to be back here, after the World Cup. He likes being here. His family likes it here. So I’d say yes, that’s probably the case.
Q: You made a reference to your personal life. Have some of the issues you’re dealing with somehow actually aided you as an athlete this year?
A: That’s personal. I’ll leave that personal.
Q: Is there actual news of this, in terms of documents filed, anything like that?
A: Also personal.
Q: Have there been moments when you have been dealing with grief and managed to set that aside and gone out and played wherever it was that you were playing?
A: Definitely. Definitely.
Q: Is it awkward to be in a marriage with someone who is well-known, as well? Do you wish you have a little more privacy than you do?
A: Actually, people have been pretty good about that. I think actually we’re lucky, as soccer players, pretty lucky at that. We kind of fall right in between those lines where you’re not so famous that paparazzi are following you around, but you also get a lot of benefits of being an athlete. People have been respectful.
Q: You and David hang out at all?
Q: Is this a Galaxy team … people talk about baseball teams where they have “25 players and 25 cabs” after a game. Because no one likes anyone else.
A: Probably we would be, like, three or four cabs. We’re a pretty tight group.
Q: Whom do you feel closest to?
A: Alan Gordon and I have been here the longest. Chris Klein and I room on the road. And Todd (Dunivant), I’m very close with. So those three, probably.
Q: Are things good in Landon Donovan’s world?
A: Yeah. I’m very happy. It’s been a long year. I’m starting to get a little worn out by it. I’m happy with where I’m at. More important, I’m happy with where I’m going. That’s a nice feeling.
Q: Talking about soccer here?
A: Yeah. And just in general about my life. Feel good about what’s going on. My life is taking shape.
Q: How much longer can you do this, major injuries notwithstanding?
A: It’s hard to know. When I think about … when I look at my age, I’m still 27 and I should be right in my prime with plenty of years left. When I look at how many games I’ve played and how much travel I’ve done and the miles on my body, I’m probably more like a 32- or 33-year-old, in that way. So, who knows? But as long as I’m healthy and enjoying it, I’ll keep playing.
Paul Oberjuerge writes about soccer for the NY Times soccer blog Goal and has his own sports blog at Oberjuerge.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com