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The U.S. National Team

Landon Donovan as Soccer Coach? It Could Happen

As the United States men’s national team prepares to play South Korea on Saturday, Donovan spoke with ASN’s Jon Arnold about post-career possibilities.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
January 31, 2014
10:08 AM
CARSON, Calif.—Landon Donovan seems like the type to ride off into the sunset, doesn't he?.

After their playing careers are over, many athletes—perhaps too many—retire and find their ways into coaching jobs. Others start gyms or assist with academies. Donovan has never seemed like the kind of guy who would stick around, an idea that has only grown since his sabbatical after the 2012 Major League Soccer season.

Donovan has a life outside of the game, it's safe to say, and seems to relish his time away from soccer.

But Thursday at U.S. training, Donovan appeared to be willing to kick around the thought of staying in the game after his on-the-field career is over. When asked about how playing with Latino players growing up influenced his game, Donovan hinted he might be open to helping develop the next generation of players with an eye toward incorporating a Latino style.

“I think technically, Latin players are further ahead than we are here in America, and I had the benefit of playing with those players, training with those players,” he said. “I had wonderful coaches that stressed those things, and when I retire and if I stay at the game, those are things that I want to emphasize because those are things that you don’t learn when you’re later, you learn when you’re seven, eight, nine years old.”

“You don’t want to start those things when you’re 18 or 19 because you can’t catch up.”

The mental image of Donovan manning the tactical area in a neatly tailored suit might seem a bit jarring. Visions of the Stars and Stripes’ all-time leading scorer sitting in the lotus position in a steamy room in Cambodia are easier to conjure. But Donovan has clearly done lots of thinking about the youth system in the country.

It stands to reason for the 31-year-old, who was in the inaugural class of U.S. Soccer's residency program and represented the U.S. at the U-17, U-20, and U-23 levels, to have a vested interest in how everything operates. He rose to prominence in an interesting time for soccer in the country. He's a member of what will likely go down as the most storied class in the federation's history, and another excellent World Cup would cement Donovan's legacy as the greatest American player.

Yet, as soccer has grown, there have also been questions about how to mold talent in a country that presents unique scenarios with both the popularity of other sports and sheer size of the landmass. The success Donovan and others have experienced has laid groundwork for another generation of American soccer players to develop, which will help the senior team grow.

"There’s no question," Donovan said. "I think when you have the type of players that we have play in all parts of the world now, when it seems now every week or two there’s a young kid at some academy somewhere that’s American that’s coming through the ranks—that wouldn’t have happened years ago. So unquestionably there’s more respect and the way we keep earning that is by doing well in these tournaments, so it’s another step for us."

In the same week his club, the Los Angeles Galaxy, announced a USL PRO team to develop additional players in talent-rich Southern California, Donovan emphasized having professional or professional-style options in the U.S. is a change that will pay dividends for the country's footballing future.

"We’ve said for a long time, it’s fine to compete in the World Cups, and the Confederations Cups, and Gold Cups, and that kind of stuff, but the way we really get better is by our young kids getting better,” he said. “And now we really have the opportunity to develop that here.”

Speculation about a potential coaching future is too premature, with the World Cup approaching and Donovan's legs showing no signs of giving out, though he did speak about the need for players to adapt their games as they get a bit older and a step or two slower.

The star midfielder is focused on the playing field now.

"The hope as any athlete or any person in general is that you use all your experiences to help you. Experiences don’t mean a whole lot if you don’t learn from them, you don’t improve from them, so I’ve learned a lot," he said.

"I’ve certainly, I guess, calmed down a little as I’ve gotten older and I see the big picture more clearly, but it’s still exciting, and it’s something that I want to be a part of," Donovan said of playing in a World Cup, "so I wake up every day with that on top of my mind and make sure I do my best to get there."

Could you envision Donovan on the sidelines? Would you like to see it? Share your thoughts below.

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