When it comes to American Soccer, you would be hard pressed to find a more recognizable name than Landon Donovan. The all-time leader in goals and assists for the United States Men’s National Team is also becoming a familiar face to residents of San Diego, with Donovan and his family recently moving to America’s Finest City.
In conjunction with the San Diego Sockers, the indoor stalwarts who are currently on a quest for their 15th championship in franchise history, Soccer Nation’s Nate Abaurrea had an in depth chat with Donovan this weekend, inside the Socker’s home of the Valley View Casino Center.
The fourth and final part of the conversation sends us on a glorious trip down USMNT memory lane, with colorful World Cup stops in both South Korea and South Africa. We also get to know about Donovan’s soccer idol growing up, and his thoughts on one of the brightest young American Soccer stars here in 2017. Donovan also shares his thoughts on San Diego’s food and beer scene, and gives one more rally cry for the people of San Diego to get on board with the MLS in SD movement.
Nate Abaurrea: Alright Landon, it’s time to get into some memory lane goodness with you. There’s so many places we could go in your career, specifically with the national team, so I’ll just throw it right to you. Do you have a favorite memory, or maybe two, in a U.S. shirt?
Landon Donovan: The one that actually stands out for me personally is my first World Cup game in 2002 against Portugal. We were walking out, pre-game for warm-ups.
Just to give some context, when I first started with the youth national teams, I was 16. Me and DaMarcus Beasley both came into the national team scene at the same time and we both kind of grew up together, from the U-17’s to the U-20’s to the Olympics and then to the full national team. We were the two young kids that made that World Cup team in 2002.
I’ll never forget, we walked down the tunnel together and peaked out into the stadium and the crowd was already filling in. I had this moment where I kind of went through all the memories of what it took just to get there, playing in my backyard, the practicing, the running, and all these other things. Me and DaMarcus had this moment, basically simultaneously, natural, unscripted, and just looked at each other and went “holy sh**! We made it.” That for me was such a cool moment, because it really encapsulated everything that had led up to it and what happened that day.
Now, on the field, there were lots of special ones. The one that really sticks out, after the event, is the goal against Algeria in 2010. In the moment, it’s exciting, but you don’t understand the magnitude of it until you’re outside of the moment for a bit. I was just so excited to score that goal and to know that we got through, but I didn’t know in the moment what was going on back home and how people were responding. Now that I understand all that, it’s a moment that obviously sticks out.
Nate Abaurrea: What goes through your mind when you see that goal now, and you hear Ian Darke’s famous call for ESPN? What’s it like watching it almost seven years later from that moment in South Africa? Do you get chills watching it?
Landon Donovan: I do. And I enjoy seeing it. I’ve always been someone though where my memory is so clouded. I’m all about what’s next. That’s part of why I’m so excited about being a part of all this stuff here in San Diego. I’ve always been that way, I think. But more and more, I’m finding myself able to take that step back and say “OK, that’s pretty cool”, to know that we did something that made so many people feel a certain way. So when I watch it now, it takes me through those types of emotions, and that’s very special for me.
(One of the most iconic moments in U.S. Soccer history, Donovan’s last gasp winner vs. Algeria in 2010)
Nate Abaurrea: There might not be another player in USMNT history who enjoyed playing against Mexico more than you. You scored six of your 57 international goals against El Tri, including your first and last goals in a U.S. shirt, and the second of the match in the famous victory in the 2002 World Cup. Do you have a favorite memory of playing against Mexico?
Landon Donovan: Yes, and it wasn’t on the field.
So when we played against Mexico in the 2002 World Cup, potentially the only time we’ll ever play against Mexico in a World Cup, we beat them 2-0 to knock them out of the tournament, and as we pull out of the parking lot in our team bus, we’re screaming and celebrating. There’s beer flowing. We had a game three days later, but everyone’s drinking beer and we’re jumping around. Then we look over to the right as we pull up to a stop sign outside the stadium, and Mexico’s team bus pulls up right next to us.
The juxtaposition between what was going on inside our bus and inside theirs was pretty obvious. I remember when we first noticed that they were right there. Then for like a minute straight, and this was probably pretty rude of us, but for like a full minute, we just started jumping and screaming as loud as we could, shaking the whole bus, and they were all looking right at us. That probably didn’t endear us much to them or to their fans, but it was one of those raw, special moments in that rivalry.
Nate Abaurrea: Let’s head a little further back to your early soccer upbringing. Who was your favorite soccer player growing up?
Landon Donovan: Well I’ll preface this by telling you that growing up, we weren’t aloud to watch TV during the day. Thankfully, in hindsight, my mom said you have to go outside and play, no ifs, ands, or buts. And TV was much different back then. We had like four channels and there was nothing we wanted to watch anyway.
The only way that I was able to experience watching soccer was to get VHS tapes every Christmas of great soccer goals and highlights or whatever I would get. Because of that, coupled with my club team for a couple years wearing the AC Milan jerseys, my favorite player actually became Roberto Baggio, the great Italian from that era. I just kind of liked the way he played and how he looked.
Kids today, man, they know every player on every team and every stat. In comparison to kids today, I knew almost nothing about professional soccer growing up. But for some reason, Baggio was that one player I gravitated towards and really developed a love for.
Nate Abaurrea: Tying this back to the USMNT, who is a player in the current American camp that really sparks your interest and gets those passionate juices flowing while watching?
Landon Donovan: Christian Pulisic is special. I think he’s special for a few reasons. First off, he’s 18 and playing games consistently in the Bundesliga. I was well into my 20’s and couldn’t play games consistently in the Bundesliga. And he’s not only playing consistently, but scoring and creating goals for one of the top teams in the Bundesliga, and playing in the Champions League as well. That’s pretty special.
The way he carries himself is something I’m really impressed with. It’s one thing to come on the scene and light it up for a few games. Sometimes you see players like that and you just get a feeling that it’s gonna be short lived, or at least difficult to sustain. With him, it’s different. I look at him and think that for ten years, maybe more, he’s gonna be really special. He is, and I think most people would agree with this, as talented a player at that age as we’ve ever had, and the future for him looks very bright.
Nate Abaurrea: Bringing this back to America’s Finest City now, you told me you’ve been here almost a year now. What is your favorite thing to do in San Diego?
Landon Donovan: Eat!
Nate Abaurrea: Do you have a favorite spot?
Landon Donovan: Oh man, there’s so many. We’ve got spots in Del Mar that we like. We love Little Italy. And I’m also a massive beer enthusiast, and this is a pretty cool place to live if you like beer. I’ve definitely been enjoying that. It’s been a lot of fun.
Nate Abaurrea: Favorite beer?
Landon Donovan: Well I’m a Belgian guy, the tripels and Belgian quads. I know things are pretty IPA heavy around here. One thing I want to tell you is that I actually saw a green flash for the first time.
Nate Abaurrea: You mean an actual green flash over the ocean?
Landon Donovan: Yeah. I’ve been drinking Green Flash beer for a while. But I’d never actually seen a green flash in the sky until I moved to San Diego. That was pretty cool.
Nate Abaurrea: They’re mighty cool. Last question Landon, coming full circle and kind of reiterating this whole thing. What can people in San Diego do today, next week, next month, and throughout this year to really jump on board with this movement to bring Major League Soccer to America’s Finest City?
Landon Donovan: There’s a few things.
One: be a soccer fan and be yourself, because soccer fans are different than other sports fans.
Two: Support your local teams. If you grew up playing for Surf, for Nomads, for Albion, or any other club in this area, or you grew up watching the Sockers, or you play for the Sockers, keep getting out and supporting your teams.
When it’s time to sign the initiative, sign the initiative!
Talk to your friends. Get people involved and help people understand how great this will be for San Diego.
If you can talk to your City Councilperson, do it. Let them know that they should be on board with this.
We want to show this city that people want this to happen. We want synergy. We want everyone galvanized and in this together. The best way you can do that is to be yourself, be a soccer fan, and get out and support.
Nate Abaurrea: Spoken true as ever. Landon, thank you so much for joining us.
Landon Donovan: My pleasure, Nate.