COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Landon Donovan’s first match as a head coach ended in a shootout loss on Tuesday as his MLS Homegrown squad fell to Club América’s Under-20s, 5–4 after a 1–1 draw. Still, he said afterward, it didn’t dampen his appetite for the job.
“I really enjoyed it,” Donovan told reporters gathered outside the locker room at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “It’s certainly different. It gives you a little anxiety because you can’t be out there.”
Donovan spoke slowly, pausing thoughtfully before and during his responses. His trademark reflective disposition carried over into his coaching demeanor, never leaving the bench during the game. He also dressed casually, just a maroon MLS polo on top of black Adidas sweatpants.
Part of that may have been due to his inexperience as a coach, but he had three seasoned assistants alongside him in LA Galaxy academy coach Mike Muñoz, first-team assistant Pat Noonan and Colorado Rapids goalkeeper coach Chris Sharpe.
“I’m the first to tell you that I had no clue what I was doing this week. If [coaching] was the path I was going to go down, I’d want to prepare properly,” said Donovan, adding that he never taken a coaching course. “It’s like anything in life; you don’t just walk into it and be successful.”
Donovan began wading into the coaching world when he spent a month with the United States U-20s in New Zealand during the World Cup. Tommy Thompson, who scored the lone goal for MLS on Tuesday, was also on that squad.
“It’s surreal working with someone I looked up to my entire life,” Thompson said. “He said to make sure you always enjoy the game. There are always going to be the pressures, but he never wants us to take a game for granted because you never know what could be your last game. That really resonated with me, and I’m grateful to continue learning from him.”
Thompson’s strike from 25 yards out into the bottom left-hand corner gave the MLS team a lead in the 34th minute. With the goal, the San Jose Earthquakes striker became the first to score in a Homegrown Game after the 2014 edition finished 0–0 against the Portland Timbers U-23s.
Club América equalized in the second half, as Sergio Rodríguez put home a penalty after Orlando City SC defender Tyler Turner pulled down Fernando González in the box. América finished the match with more momentum and chances but couldn’t score, setting up the shootout.
América goalkeeper Jonathan León Quiñones walked away with the game’s MVP award for his efforts. He saved FC Dallas midfielder Alex Zendejas’s shot before the Montreal Impact’s Anthony Jackson-Hamel fired over the goal to end the match.
“Those [América] kids have been together probably for six or seven years that are good players, and we have players that are at least at their level. That didn’t happen 10 years ago when I came into the league,” Donovan said. “They’re miles ahead. … They’re real professionals.”
Despite the massive amount of money being spent to attract foreign talent recently, Donovan said he thinks MLS incentivizes youth development properly. He pointed to the growing numbers of Homegrown Player signings to balance the investment in players coming from abroad.
“It’s not perfect yet—everybody knows that it takes time—but they care, and they want to do it the right way. Obviously, it’s smart business if you develop guys and sell them or they play for your first team,” he said. “It’s also the way to make the U.S. and Canada better in the long run.”
Donovan extolled the benefits of the Homegrown Game, which allows players to practice playing in an unfamiliar environment with a short amount of time to perform as a team. He likened it playing with the national team.
“These kids get so much out of this game,” Donovan said. “It’s hard to come into an environment where you don’t know people, and you’re thrown together in two days, and the more experiences you have like that, the more you benefit from it.”
As for his own future after retiring from the game as a player, Donovan said he would be open to a reprisal in his role as Homegrown coach next year. At least, his brief experiences in New Zealand and during All-Star week haven’t scared him away from the profession.
“This was a week to sort of dip my toe in and see how it felt,” Donovan said. “I don’t know what the future holds. It depends on, obviously, a lot of things, but I really enjoyed it, so if I get another opportunity, then maybe I’ll consider it.”