SI's Grant Wahl and Brian Straus discuss the shocking development of Landon Donovan returning to action with Liga MX's Club Leon and their reactions to his latest decision.
Club Leon introduced Landon Donovan as its newest signing on Monday night, making the stunning move more real as the U.S. legend donned the No. 20 shirt at the club's stadium.
Donovan addressed Leon fans in Spanish, reiterating his tweet that he does not believe in walls, a pointed comment directed at U.S. President Donald Trump's political views on immigration. He also kept attention on the field, where he assured all that his intent is on winning trophies.
"I'm here to play, win games and be champion," Donovan said. "Being human you actually have fear of failure and that was one of the first things that came to mind. I know that if I commit myself to this there is no chance of failure, so it's incumbent on me to make sure I commit myself. If I come and do it halfway, I could fail. If I do it three-quarters of the way with my age, I could fail. If I do it all-in with all my heart, I won't fail."
The move has surely sparked reaction across the U.S. soccer landscape, and SI's Grant Wahl and Brian Straus discussed the surprise move on the new Planet Fútbol Podcast (the conversation begins at the 16:40 mark and is edited here for clarity and length):
GW: I guess it's just a little weird, I don't know what to expect here. I'm certainly suspecting he's getting paid a ton of money, so congratulations on that, Landon. I don't know if they expect him to be a 90-minute player, because I don't know what kind of shape he's in, and I don't think that they should be expecting him to score a ton of goals either. ... Clearly he must have an interest in playing the game still and must not be overly concerned about legacies and things like that.
BS: Which I think is great. I hope he has fun. ... He owes us nothing. If he wants to do this and have fun and if he finds someone willing to pay him to do whatever ... Not only is he 35, he's a few weeks from 36. He's at an age where most guys are walking away. He's got less mileage on the wheels after essentially three years off. But he's had two kids, he's been working with the San Diego MLS expansion bid ... He is always interesting. The guy is compelling. I remember when he retired we all wrote a bit of a personal essay on what it was like to cover Landon and I wrote about the idea of the inhale, about how Landon was the one American soccer player who every time he got the ball, every time he was facing up against a defender, every time he had a little bit of room in front of him, you knew he could change a game, you knew something spectacular could happen. Now obviously we have a second player capable of that in [Christian] Pulisic. But for many, many, many years Landon was the first guy we had seen who could do that, and to me that's the best thing about sports. That's it right there. That feeling of breathless anticipation and knowing everything could change right now. Landon just delivers that. Some people love him, some people he rubs the wrong way. He's obviously made some choices over his career that have been confusing, but the guy is must-see TV, and I'm going to watch. I'm absolutely curious to see how he's going to do.
In terms of his legacy, I hope he doesn't care. The only thing that could impact his legacy now is Pulisic. That's it. Landon is either the best American player of all time, or at some point it will be Pulisic, assuming Pulisic continues on this trajectory. And that's it. Landon has nothing else to do to prove to himself I don't think. If he's ready for an adventure and ready to have a good time and try this out, I think it's awesome.
GW: I do think there's a bit of a quest as so many athletes go through after they're done playing of 'What do I do next.' And because he's Landon Donovan, he's going to have a lot of opportunities including media, which he's done, but I'm curious to see what he ends up doing long term, because we still don't totally know yet, and coming back to play as long as you're still capable of doing it is great, but also kind of delays that reckoning even more.
BS: It does. And I'm all for delaying reckoning. I would delay reckoning every single time I had the chance to, so props to LD (laughs).
I spoke to him last spring about the San Diego MLS bid, and this was not a cosmetic investment for him. This was not something where he was putting in a token amount of money to be the marketing face of this effort. He was involved. And he was going to be involved with the club, and he was really excited about the idea. He talked at length about the youth scene in Southern California and San Diego area in particular and how it didn't have a direction, it didn't have a focus. And he was so intrigued by the idea of getting his hands dirty in that and being a technical executive with the club and helping direct that stuff. And he seemed really energized by it. So maybe playing a year or six months for Leon doesn't stop him from doing that. There's a vote, a Footy McFooty Face referendum supposedly in November I guess in San Diego, so he can spend 2018 scratching that last little itch and then maybe San Diego gets their MLS team and he can throw himself into that.
Landon wants to have fun with lots of different things. I think it's great that he's wearing No. 20, I think it's hysterical that he's going to be running around a field in Mexico in a green jersey with Dos and Cero on the back. He likes to troll a little bit, he's always had that little bit of his personality, and I think it's awesome.
(Note: Donovan claimed Monday that 20 was his second favorite number and told ESPN: "[It] could be a joke, but the biggest joke is that Mexico is in the World Cup and we aren't." He wore No. 26 upon his first return from retirement with the LA Galaxy in 2016.)