Landon Donovan: For the man he’s become, it’s time to move on

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PORTLAND, Ore. — “Yes, I have played in games like that before,” he quipped, jumping on my mistake while trying to defuse the question. After MLS’s victory in a contentious All-Star Game, I’d asked about the second half’s intensity – a tone that drew the ire of Pep Guardiola. When I didn’t specify “All-Star Games” (merely asking about “games”), Donovan seized on the moment.

It’s the latest version of the story we’ve heard over the last five years: Landon Donovan just is not the same person. As a young player cast into the heat of U.S. Soccer’s (then) narrow spotlight, Donovan played the part of the reserved icon – a clichéd role that would prove soul-sucking for all but the grotesquely cynical.

Now, he can joke. He can prod. He can seize on a slip at the end of an interview. Maturation and changes in his personal life caused a turn four years ago. What emerged from an emotional World Cup and some time away from the game was an honesty that was refreshing from such an entrenched star.

[ RELATED: Donovan to retire at the end of the 2014 season ]

If Donovan was cautious before, perhaps rightly concerned his views that would be dissected ad nauseam, the new Landon was more confident: comfortable correcting a false assumption; personable enough to avoid offense. He was endearing enough to win misgiven hearts, yet flawed enough to endear empathy. If the media’s fawned over the new man, they weren’t the only ones. Everybody could empathize with the new Landon Donovan.

He is now an elder statesman, as much as any 32-year-old could ever be. He could pass judgment on the landscape with the authority of a legend, one whose honesty and fairness underscored his transformation. Whereas the pro forma approach of his prime showed greater deference, Donovan had evolved into a voice. Right or wrong, he had earned our trust.

That was most evident in May, when he was excluded from what could have been his last World Cup. As the U.S. soccer world exploded around him — expressing the rage of a fanbase that’d followed him into their own soccer primes — Donovan presented calm, even while expressing clear dissent.

No, he didn’t see the same world as Jurgen Klinsmann, and yes, he thought he should be in Brazil. But he wasn’t going to lead a revolt. It was just the latest, albeit unfortunate, stop along his road, one that wouldn’t stop him from being the clear, open player he’d evolved into. I’m not going to Brazil, and that’s heart-breaking, but tomorrow comes, regardless.

[ RELATED: Open letter explains Donovan’s retirement ]

There’ll be a lot of talk about that World Cup snub. Donovan may downplay its part, but don’t be too cynical when he does. For as much as his international self was part of his identify, it’s hard to reconcile a Donovan that wants to play soccer walking away merely because of a diminished role with the U.S. Though the World Cup was an obvious goal, playing for the national team hasn’t been a significant part of his life since returning from Cambodia. At some level, while being a “mere” All-Star for Los Angeles, Donovan just wanted to play soccer.

And now, he doesn’t. At least, he doesn’t want to play as much. Turning 33 next March, Donovan’s decision may be less about the U.S. and more about what’s left to accomplish. More MLS Cups? Another few All-Star Games? More records, though he already has the league’s most prestigious ones? At what point does the treadmill break down? In that light, he may have called time on his career after the World Cup regardless.

For today’s Donovan, there are other things to do. There’s family. There’s travel. There’s a life without all the externalities of a professional’s existence. For the most famous player in U.S. soccer history, there’s a whole other part of the soccer world, one he may not have recognized five years ago.

For the person he’s become, the person that’s already checked off so many boxes in that soccer world, it’s time to move on. That he wants to should be reason enough for us.

Karim Benzema signs new contract at Real Madrid

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Karim Benzema has signed a new four-year contract at Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Sargent to Werder Bremen

The French striker, 29, has become the latest star name to commit their future to the two-time reigning European champions with Marcelo, Isco and Dani Carvajal all signing new deals over the past week.

Benzema will now remain at Real until June 30, 2021, with the Frenchman scoring 181 goals in 371 appearances as well as winning two La Liga titles, three European Cups and two Copa del Rey trophies during his time in the Spanish capital.

It is believed this new deal has a release clause of over $1.35 billion as Spanish clubs are now becoming increasingly wary of losing their star players a la Neymar leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite his expulsion from the French national team for over 18 months due to his alleged involvement in a blackmail case involving a sex tape and former teammate Mathieu Valbuena, Benzema has been in fine form for Real since Zinedine Zidane took charge in 2015.

Benzema scored 19 goals in 48 games in all competitions last season and 28 in 36 games the season before that as his hold up play and ability to drift out wide or drop deeper crucial to getting the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Co.

That said, Benzema has scored just once in six appearances this season but Real are obviously happy with what he is producing aside from goals.

With question marks over the future of Bale at the Bernabeu, locking down Benzema shows just how important he is to Zidane’s attacking unit as they seek to seal a third-straight UEFA Champions League title.

FIFA open investigation into Chelsea’s youth transfer policy

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Chelsea could be in big trouble.

FIFA have confirmed they’re investigating Chelsea’s youth transfer policy yet again, specifically over the recruitment of foreign players under the age of 18.

What could the punishment be? The worst-case scenario is that Chelsea would be banned from signing any new players across its senior or youth levels but it is believed this situation isn’t as serious as previous investigations involving Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Via the Telegraph, FIFA had the following to say about the investigation: “As the investigation is ongoing, no further comment is possible for the time being.”

Chelsea released a short statement saying: “Chelsea FC complies with all FIFA Statutes and Regulations when recruiting players.”

It will be the third time in eight years that world soccer’s governing body have looked at Chelsea’s youth policy and back in 2009 they were handed a transfer ban for two transfer windows over the signing of French teenager Gael Kakuta from Lens in 2007 but that was later overturned after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

Chelsea were also investigated last year over the signing of Bertrand Traore after images emerged of him playing for the club as a 16-year-old, before international clearance had arrived.

Spanish clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have been found guilty after similar investigations took place with Barca banned from signing players for two transfer windows and the same happening to Atletico who can’t sign any new players until January 2018, while Real Madrid had their ban reduced to one window after an appeal.

In the UK both Liverpool and Manchester City have recently been handed fines and bans for not following rules over recruiting young players domestically.

For foreign players signing for a team in another country there are strict rules in place.

Their family must either be relocating for non soccer reasons to the country where the new club is based, they must live no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered with is within that 50km radius, or if they sign between the age of 16-18 the new club must provide them with housing, access to education and a soccer education.

USMNT prospect Sargent signs for Werder Bremen

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Josh Sargent’s star is rising fast.

The 17-year-old is the latest U.S. national team prospect to head to the Bundesliga as Werder Bremen announced Wednesday that he will sign with the club in February 2018 when he turns 18.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for 2017 Golden Boy ]

Bremen stated that Sargent had “numerous offers from other top clubs in Europe” but was “convinced by our philosophy at SV Werder and that we can now oversee his development as a player and support him along the way.” It is believed Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich were interested in signing Sargent.

Sargent scored four goals and grabbed on assist for the U.S. U-20 side which reached the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in South Korea over the summer and he will play for the USA’s U-17 side at the World Cup in India next month.

The promising striker, who currently plays for St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri Soccer Club, had this to say about his upcoming move to Germany.

“My full concentration is first and foremost on the World Cup and the time I have left in Missouri. But I am really looking forward to next year and the new challenge in Bremen,” Sargent said. “Werder made a huge effort with me and they have always shown in the past that they give young players like myself an ideal introduction to professional football. That meant that my decision to continue my career in Bremen was not a hard one to make.”

Bremen say that Sargent will spent his first few months in Germany training with the U-23 side and will then link up with the first team ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.

With Christian Pulisic ripping it up at Borussia Dortmund and Weston McKennie getting starts for Schalke, it seems like Bundesliga teams can’t get enough of teenage American talents.

Nominees for FIFPro World XI announced

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The best 55 players on the planet have been selected by their peers.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for 2017 Golden Boy ]

World Players’ Union FIFPro, in conjunction with its partner player associations across the globe, asked over 25,000 professional players to select their FIFPro World 11 for the 2016-17 season.

Each professional player could pick one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three attackers to make up their best XI.

Real Madrid, the two-time reigning European champions, set a new record as 13 of their players were among the 55 nominees shortlisted, while 13 players from the Premier League are included with Antonio Valencia, Philippe Coutinho, Nemanja Matic, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku all shortlisted for the first time.

David De Gea, David Luiz, Eden Hazard, N'Golo Kante, Mesut Ozil, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez make up the rest of the Premier League contingent.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar will be the frontrunners to make up the front three in this team, just as they did in 2015, and Messi and Ronaldo have both been in the FIFPro team in each of the last nine seasons.

Below are the 55 players who received the most votes as the FIFPro World 11 will be announced in London on Oct. 23 at the Best FIFA Football Awards where the World Player of the Year and other prestigious accolades will be dished out.


Goalkeepers
Gianluigi Buffon – Italy, Juventus
David de Gea – Spain, Manchester United
Keylor Navas – Costa Rica, Real Madrid
Manuel Neuer – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Jan Oblak – Slovenia, Atletico Madrid

Defenders
David Alaba – Austria, FC Bayern Munich
Jordi Alba – Spain, FC Barcelona
Dani Alves – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Jerome Boateng – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Leonardo Bonucci – Italy, Juventus/AC Milan
Dani Carvajal – Spain, Real Madrid
Giorgio Chiellini – Italy, Juventus
Diego Godin – Uruguay, Atletico Madrid
Mats Hummels – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Phillipp Lahm – Germany, FC Bayern Munich/retired
David Luiz – Brazil, Chelsea FC
Marcelo – Brazil, Real Madrid
Javier Mascherano – Argentina, FC Barcelona
Pepe – Portugal, Real Madrid/Besiktas
Gerard Pique – Spain, FC Barcelona
Sergio Ramos – Spain, Real Madrid
Thiago Silva – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Samuel Umtiti – France, FC Barcelona
Antonio Valencia – Ecuador, Manchester United
Raphael Varane – France, Real Madrid

Midfielders
Thiago Alcantara – Spain, FC Bayern München
Sergio Busquets – Spain, FC Barcelona
Casemiro – Brazil, Real Madrid
Philippe Coutinho – Brazil, Liverpool FC
Eden Hazard – Belgium, Chelsea FC
Andres Iniesta – Spain, FC Barcelona
Isco – Spain, Real Madrid
N’Golo Kante – France, Chelsea FC
Toni Kroos – Germany, Real Madrid
Nemanja Matic – Serbia, Chelsea/Manchester United
Luka Modric – Croatia, Real Madrid
Mesut Ozil – Germany, Arsenal FC
Paul Pogba – France, Manchester United
Marco Verratti – Italy, Paris Saint-Germain
Arturo Vidal – Chile, FC Bayern Munich

Forwards
Gareth Bale – Wales, Real Madrid
Karim Benzema – France, Real Madrid
Edinson Cavani – Uruguay, Paris Saint-Germain
Paulo Dybala – Argentina, Juventus
Antoine Griezmann – France, Atletico Madrid
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden, Manchester United
Harry Kane – England, Tottenham Hotspur
Robert Lewandowski – Poland, FC Bayern Munich
Romelu Lukaku – Belgium, Manchester United
Kylian Mbappe – France, Paris Saint-Germain
Lionel Messi – Argentina, FC Barcelona
Neymar JR – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal, Real Madrid
Alexis Sanchez – Chile, Arsenal FC
Luis Suarez – Uruguay, FC Barcelona