Landon Donovan on legacy, broadcasting and the USMNT in Copa America

Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Heineken
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The competitive fire that drove Landon Donovan over his record-setting career with the U.S. men’s national team and a bevy of strong clubs didn’t disappear, we just don’t see it as often.

And when Buffalo Wild Wings asked him to take penalties on a smaller net against surprised fans, he didn’t exactly spare them.

“When people watch PKs on TV they think it’s really easy, so it’s good to get them in goal and I just unleashed them,” Donovan said in an exclusive interview with PST.  “It depended on the person. Some of them maybe 90 percent. Some people were thinking, ‘I got this’. Then they realized maybe it’s not that easy.”

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You can see it in the video below, as the USMNT legend-turned-broadcaster uncorked some shots (especially against one particular confident would-be goalkeeper). I personally enjoy the lady yelling, “Ow”.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93K5GlUyASM&w=560&h=315]

Donovan said he’s enjoying this more public post-playing career life, but that he wasn’t some intensely private person that avoided people while playing. He was just tired and, frankly, American people didn’t care as much about soccer, or him.

“I wasn’t doing these kind of things not because I didn’t want to, but because they are exhausting. When I would get home from training, I’d want to just rest. I wanted to opportunity to engage people,” Donovan said.

“Because of how soccer’s grown in this country, literally no one knew any of us and no one cared what we were doing. And now I show up at a Buffalo Wild Wings and there are hundreds of people paying attention to what we’re doing and excited to be a part of it. I kinda relish it now because now that I’m outside of it I can really truly appreciate it. It’s really fun and enjoyable and it shows me how far this sport has come.”

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We forget that sometimes, and PST asked Donovan if he talks with ex-teammates and personalities like Clint Dempsey about their legacy as builders of the U.S. men’s national team program.

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 7: Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States celebrates a second half goal with Landon Donovan #10 while playing Canada during the 2011 Gold Cup at Ford Field on June 7, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The United States won the game 2-0. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“It’s funny because I was driving to the stadium to call the game on Thursday and I was in a car with Alexi and talking to him about it because he’s the generation before ours, and what it was like for them,” Donovan said.

“I still see our generation as very relevant, very new, but there are a lot of people who just started watching the game three or four years ago. Sometimes I don’t realize that and they don’t really know about us. We were doing our part for the next, and that’s something I hope this new generation remembers because it wasn’t long ago that nobody really cared about the team and our league was on the verge of folding my first year I came in. I want to make sure they appreciate that and they can understand that it wasn’t always so easy.”

Which brings us to Tuesday night’s Copa America Centenario semifinal. It’s also not going to be easy for the United States to pull off a win, even at home, against mighty Argentina and the world’s best player in Lionel Messi. Donovan said he expects a tight game that won’t get out of hand, and that he can see a U.S. winning if a lot of things go right.

The 34-year-old California-born winger says the suspensions to Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones, and Bobby Wood could affect the Yanks not because of the replacement-level players, but because of chemistry and fitness.

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

“Where the drop-off is, this team has been playing together the same 11 or 12 guys for 4 games,” Donovan said. “And that’s where it hurts. Not only is it a continuity issue, but it’s also a fitness issue.

“Whether it’s Zusi or Pulisic or Nagbe or Besler, they’re not going to be as sharp. That’s going to make a difference, as will fitness and they aren’t going to be as confidence who’s been running nonstop for four games.

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“As Jurgen said yesterday, he called it a roster of 23 guys. He didn’t build this roster to bring guys along for experience. He did this to do as well as he could in this tournament, and he has to be able to rely on these guys.”

PST also asked Donovan about his recent turn as a color commentator in the booth for the U.S. win over Ecuador in quarterfinals. Donovan was confident, strong and passionate during the contest, and improved on his already-decent in-studio work. He says being in the building played a big role.

“It’s like anything the more reps you have the better you are at it,” Donovan said. “I called two games off a monitor at FOX, and it’s such a different environment being in a stadium. It’s given me a lot of respect for what people do and how they prepare and how difficult it is to call a game. It’s always good and whether or not it’s something I end up doing, at least I’ve experienced it.”