Landon Donovan, the all-time leader in goals and assists for the U.S. national team, will play his final game in a U.S. jersey on Friday night in a friendly against Ecuador in East Hartford, Connecticut (7 p.m. ET, ESPN, Unimas). It will be a moment for U.S. fans to say thanks to Donovan, who is retiring from soccer at the end of this MLS season, and so it seemed like a good occasion to sit down with Donovan and give him the rapid-fire quiz on some of the superlatives from his long career.
SI: What are your most memorable goals for club and country?
DONOVAN: For club, one is the goal in the 2001 [MLS Cup] final against the Galaxy with San Jose. Two is the goal in the 2011 final against Houston to win it. With the national team I have two: My first goal [ever] at the L.A. Coliseum against Mexico [in 2000] and the Algeria goal [to save the U.S. from elimination at World Cup 2010].
SI: What is the highest-quality goal you’ve ever scored?
LD: The one in the ’01 final was pretty difficult to pull off. I scored a goal in the Under-17 World Cup [in 1999] in the semifinals against Australia that was one of the better goals I’ve ever scored. And if you can pull that video you’ve got talent!
SI: Who’s the best player you’ve ever played against?
LD: [Lionel] Messi. You play against most players, Cristiano Ronaldo included, and they’re really good, but you still feel like you’re on the same field with them. They’re good, but it’s O.K. With Messi, you felt like you’re on the field and the guy is so much better than everyone else that if he wants to turn it on you have no chance. There’s moments when Cristiano is like that too, but Messi, when we played against them, I just got that feeling. Like, there was one play when he dribbled through the middle and guys were trying to smash him, just kicking at him, and the guy just bounced off and bounced off, kept the ball on his feet and kept going. At that point there’s nothing you can do. You’re trying your hardest, and there’s nothing you can do.
SI: Who’s the best player you played against in MLS?
LD: I think the best player I’ve played against, although I didn’t play much directly against him, was probably Jaime Moreno. I think he was a really underrated player in our league, the way he moved and just his balance and things like that. He was probably the best I ever played against in this league.
SI: Who’s the player you’ve most admired?
LD: This is going to sound weird, but probably Frank Lampard. And I say that because I like the way he went about his life. You never heard stories about him, he was never in the tabloids, his effort was always good, he was a winner. He did things right. He cared about the club he was at. I think he just did things the right way, and I always admired that.
SI: Who’s the toughest defender you’ve ever faced?
LD: Lúcio, for Brazil. He just physically was so imposing, so even if you had the ball and went near him, he was just so powerful and strong that if he wanted it he’d get it. And conversely, when he had the ball you had to do so much work to defend, it was impossible to get the ball.
SI: Who’s the toughest goalkeeper you’ve ever tried to score on?
LD: Oliver Kahn in [World Cup] 2002. I had my chance. That’s the best save I’ve ever had against me.
SI: Who’s the best teammate you’ve ever had?
LD: Three come to mind. Frankie Hejduk, just because he was so selfless. Kyle Beckerman, similar, just a great guy, a guy you wanted on your team. And Brian Ching. We just got along well. We understand the game the same way. I really enjoyed playing with him.
SI: What’s the best advice you ever got?
LD: That’s an easy one. My mom always said to make sure you’re having fun playing, and you’re not having fun then don’t play. Simple as that.
GALLERY: Classic Donovan photos