Landon Donovan admits that he briefly rooted against the U.S. team after Jurgen Klinsmann cut him.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Donovan’s initial response to what he thought was an injudicious removal from the roster was to root against the team. Donovan admitted to the Times that shortly after he was cut at the end of May and the U.S. team was playing a warmup game against Azerbaijan, his support of the team was compromised:
I’ll be completely honest, watching them play Azerbaijan, inside, part of me was thinking, I hope the game doesn’t go very well today. In my heart of hearts, I thought, if we get a 1-0 win and the team doesn’t perform well, that would feel good.”
But that feeling turned out to be ephemeral. “Then the next day I woke up and said to myself, that’s a really crappy way to feel,” Donovan recalled. “That’s a bad way to live your life, it doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help the team, it doesn’t help the energy that the team needs. He added, “Life isn’t perfect, of course, but we all know it’s how you react to things that counts. I did not want to let this define me.”
Donovan proceeded to channel his disappointment into as positive channel, appearing as a pregame, halftime and postgame analyst on ESPN and illuminating the challenges and exhilarations of World Cup soccer. He has even extolled the players replacing him. He explained, “I love playing for that team, I love playing for this country, I’m not going to turn my back on them all of a sudden.”
Donovan has appeared in a self-deprecatory EA Sports commercial in which he wears a USA bathrobe and slippers, playing video games and chortles,”I’m not going, I’m not going, I’m not going to Brazil.” He told the Times, “I feel like I owe it to the sport to keep growing it. I can’t let what happened to me ruin three or four weeks of what could be an incredible experience for everyone.”
Concurrently, Donovan has played three games for the LA Galaxy, scored three times, and risen to the all-time lead in scoring for Major League Soccer, simply saying, “My first game was difficult, very emotional, but this is my job, this is what they pay me to do.”
When Donovan was cut, theories abounded as to why U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann made the move; some argued that there needed to be an emphasis on youth (Donovan is 32) but others were astounded and outraged that the veteran who had played in the most World Cup games in U.S. history was cut. Still others believed that Klinsmann was vengeful, punishing Donovan for taking a four-month sabbatical while the U.S. was attempting to qualify for the World Cup. Another group surmised that Klinsmann thought Donovan ineffective when the going got tough, despite Donovan’s winning goal against Algeria in 2010.
Donovan had said at the time, “I respect the decision, I just feel in my heart that I deserve to be there, and that’s the pill that’s hardest to swallow.” He admitted that even after he made the decision to jettison rooting against the U.S., there were moments when he was still bitter; he watched a non-U.S. World Cup game incognito at a bar, and described his feelings:
“I was sad, angry, upset, disappointed, some low days, not fun days. As athletes, we all have egos, we all think we can help, and when you’re not given that chance, it’s hard to watch.”
But once Donovan decided to adopt a positive perspective and the ESPN job and the EA commercial elicited a strong response, he was startled at how the world around him changed. He said, “As athletes, most of the time we deal with fans cussing at us, saying how much we suck. Suddenly all of that changed … I remember one message from a Mexican fan who wrote, ‘I hated you my whole life, but what happened to you is wrong and disrespectful.’ My girlfriend said that a lot of times, you don’t hear things like this until you are dead.”