It's hard not to feel happy for Landon Donovan these days.
Waiting for an exclusive interview with LD to begin following the Gatorade Athlete of the Year awards ceremony inside a packed room at the LA Grand Hotel, I tried to watch the conclusion of the Open Cup match vs. RSL on my phone but couldn't help observing how relaxed and carefree the former LA Galaxy player appeared to be while making his rounds. It's as if Landon was walking and talking like someone who had the expectations of a soccer nation off his shoulders.
Turning back to my phone for a second, Robbie Keane skied a left-footed shot over the bar from close range. I slightly grimaced, putting my hand over my face in a feeble attempt at subterfuge.
Looking back up, I could see Landon had noticed my reaction and was quickly headed in my direction.
"Yeah", I thought, "He knows I'm watching the game".
After a warm greeting, we spent a few moments reminiscing about a youth coach we both trained with before getting started.
LAG Confidential: You're retired now. When you wake up in the morning, what's the first thing you think about? Soccer? Charity work? Breakfast?
Landon: (Laughs) I think about not having to do anything, which is really nice. Well, actually the first thing is "I gotta get my dogs, because they're awake and they want to eat and they need to pee", so that's what I first think about, and then I get to decide what I really want to do each day, which is a really nice feeling.
LAG Confidential: You had been talking about enrolling in college. Have you done that yet?
Landon: I have. I'm in the process of finalizing being enrolled. I don't know exactly how much I'll do or what I'll take yet, but it was more of going through a process, and hopefully it gets finalized very soon.
LAG Confidential: Any ideas of a major?
Landon: I'm not going for that reason. I really just want to learn and take classes that intrigue me. Obviously going full-time is something I'm not capable of, the thought of spending that much time to get a major is not on my radar right now, potentially in the future.
For now, I just want to go learn and enjoy it.
LAG Confidential: Yeah, it's not like you need to worry about finding a career to make money.
Landon: (Smiles) Right.
LAG Confidential: Do you still have the itch to play soccer?
Landon: I have the itch when I watch games. I watch games on TV and I think "Gosh, I want to be out there" or "I could help" or "That looks fun", so that part I miss.
I don't miss the training, except for the fun part of the fun games and things like that, I don't miss the traveling, I don't miss all the obligations and that kind of stuff, but the games, when I watch them I miss (playing).
LAG Confidential: Has your body healed a little bit since you stopped playing?
Landon: It's healed quite a bit. I used to be in a lot of pain every day, you know, you'd wake up and everything hurt, different things would bother you, but I've now had a chance to let it rest and let it recover, which is actually a really nice feeling because it's been a long time since it felt that good.
LAG Confidential: How do you think Steven Gerrard will do in MLS?
Landon: I think he's going to do well. I think the question is, how quickly does he do it? Because, I don't care who you are, at what level you play at, it's not easy to adjust, especially to Major League Soccer, because of travel, weather...what he's used to will be completely different, so he's going to have to get used to all that coming in, but I have no doubt that he will.
For someone like that to be that successful for that long isn't an accident, right? So he knows what he's doing and he knows how to be successful. As soon as he plays some games he's going to figure it out pretty quick.
LAGConfidential: I think about Jason Kreis, who had a really good quote how, to paraphrase, very few DPs (Designated Players) can show up halfway through the season and still be successful.
Landon: Yeah, you know, it's not easy. But Robbie (Keane) did, he showed up halfway a few years ago and was still successful, so I think he'll be successful, the question is how quickly.
LAG Confidential: What do you think of the strong rumors of Giovani Dos Santos coming to the Galaxy? (Editor's note: A half hour after this interview the LA Times reported the official signing of the Mexican international)
Landon: I think it would be incredible. It would be pretty amazing to have a player of that quality and stature as a part of the Galaxy.
It says a lot about two things: Gio wanting to come to MLS and the Galaxy, it shows you how much this league has grown and how dominant the Galaxy are, and it also says a lot about the Galaxy, that they want to go after and be ambitious about getting a player of that quality on their team, so if it could happen, it would be incredible.
LAG Confidential: Despite the parity in the league, I do believe the Galaxy, especially with the Gerrard signing, qualify as the first super club in MLS.
Landon: I think the Galaxy have been on the forefront of all that for a numbers of years, right? So, I think they're going to continue that way: They set a precedent when we signed David Beckham, we set a precedent that we're going after big players, and I think they're committed to that. Phil Anschutz, Dan Beckerman and Chris Klein are committed to that, Bruce is committed to that, and they're going to keep doing it.
LAG Confidential: Finally, during the 2004 NBA season, Karl Malone signed for the Lakers at a drastically reduced salary in order to get a ring. If, by any chance, you decide to train with the LA Galaxy one day and decide out of the blue to sign for the Galaxy, doing some kind of minimum deal, is there any chance whatsoever you might wake up one day and say "Maybe..."
Landon: (Laughing) That's a good question. Um...I don't like to say never, but it's highly unlikely that could happen, and I don't think the people around the league would be too happy if anybody signed on a minimum salary at the end of the year to come in and make the Galaxy even better. There might be some hurdles to cross there, you never know, but I'd say highly unlikely.
After I turned off the recorder, Landon excitedly leaned in my direction.
"So, did RSL win?"
Special thanks to John Cassillo and Landon Donovan.