Wednesday night’s Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game will showcase some of the brightest young talent in Major League Soccer against the Mexico U-20 national team. But there’s another career that be ready to unfold: Landon Donovan’s.
Donovan concluded his decorated career as a player in 2014. He was a key figure in popularizing soccer in America through his international exploits, as well as his performance and decision to stay in MLS.
But as Donovan dips a toe into a new role as coach, he said it won’t be a decision he rushes into:
“The more I do this, yes [I’d want to coach]. But I’m not stupid enough to think I can just step in and do a good job. It’s like anything in life, being successful is not an accident. You have to work on it. I think there’s some coaches that assume because they were a good player they’ll be a good coach and I know that’s not the case. I want take the proper steps and if I still feel passionate about it ill do it.”
Landon disclosed while announcing the roster for the Homegrown match that he would be pursuing a Continental B License, a key step toward becoming a professional coach. This is the second-straight year he has been invited to coach the MLS Homegrown team. Whether or not this is the beginning of a career in coaching for the former star, his experience is valuable for a crop of potential up and coming stars.
His first year facing the Mexican U20s in 2015, Donovan led the MLS Homegrown team to a 1-1 draw before losing 4-5 in penalties.
There is a stigma in soccer that great players generally don’t translate to great coaches. Diego Maradona is a prime example. Debatably the greatest of all time was given the reigns to the Argentina national team, wherein he produced an array of embarrassing results, including a 6-1 defeat to Bolivia and a disappointing performance in the 2010 World Cup (4-0 loss to Germany after group stages). Maradona was fired from Argentina, and later from his post at Al-Wasi, a Qatari league side.
On Donovan’s side is his relationship with American coaching legend Bruce Arena. Arena led one of the greatest teams in MLS history, the inaugural DC United side to three consecutive MLS Cups (2 wins, 1 loss).
Arena followed by taking the reins of the United States Men’s National Team, where his 71 wins are the most in US coaching history. He also lifted the US to fourth-overall FIFA ranking in the world, the highest ever recorded by the USMNT.
After a stint with the Red Bulls, Arena took over the LA Galaxy where he was reunited with national team star Donovan. Arena and Donovan went on to win MLS Cups in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Donovan referenced some of the coaches he has had when thinking about his own coaching tactics:
“I’ve got a lot of former coach-speak going on in my head this past week and when I’m out there I realize I say some of the things I hated that they used to say and I’m like what am I doing man? This is crazy but i guess thats what happens.”
The Homegrown coaching position is hardly the only honor afforded to him by the league he helped build. At the end of 2015, MLS renamed their Most Valuable Player award the Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player Award.
Following what many believed to be an early retirement at the age of 31, a return to soccer as a coach would soothe the hearts of many US soccer fans. To this day, Donovan’s exclusion from the 2014 World Cup is one of the hardest moments for US fans to swallow, while his 2010 World Cup goal against Algeria persists as one of US soccer’s finest moments.
San Jose Earthquakes homegrown player Tommy Thompson said of having Donovan as a coach:
“It’s crazy having Landon Donovan as the head coach and Stuart Holden on staff as well. These are guys I watched growing up and who I try to emulate in games. To have them here showing us the ropes a bit, it’s really special.”