On a hot September afternoon in Southern California, Landon Donovan stands where he has stood so often: on a field with the ball in his feet.
Now manager of San Diego Loyal in the USL Championship, USMNT joins all-time leading scorer, distributing assists while giving advice to his players. Donovan analyzes their runs while setting up another precise deep ball for someone to chase.
Oncewhen the session is over and his players have returned home, Donovan joins me on an ordinary silver bench that overlooks the empty training ground.
"We are really starting to freeze and connect, ”says Loyal's director and executive vice president of football operations, who helped start the fledgling organization that debuted in the USL Championship, effectively the second tier of North American football, in 2020. "We are building day by day and the most important thing now is just continuity, experiences together, time together.
For all of his successes that have made him widely recognized as the greatest player in American men's football in history, it's interesting that a conversation with Donovan is less about tactics or success on the pitch, and more about and the players themselves.
It is morecompetitive than ever before, as evidenced by his progress at Loyal, which includes the June Trainer of the Month award . But getting points and accolades isn't his only goal.
Donovan says he wants his players to be members of the San Diego community , and one of its goals is to 'connect emotionally' with the spirit of her list.
"One of our tenets guiding here is that it's the people first and the football players second, ”says Donovan. "We say this all the time.
These are not empty words. As we saw last year, the organization got stronger when it counted.
In a 1-1 draw with LA Galaxy II in September 2020, Galaxy's Omar Ontiveros would have directed a racial insult at the loyal defender Elijah Martin. Two days later, the Loyal condemned the incident and said they would give up the point they won from the match.
"We don't not even want to recognize being part of a game where these types of actions take place, ”said then-San Diego Loyal President Andrew Vassiliadis. "The Loyal on our behalf is symbolic of
One week later , Loyal left the pitch during a game against Phoenix Rising after a homophobic slur was used by the Phoenix junior Flemmings against midfielder Collin Martin , who is gay. The loss of Loyal points in matches meant that they were missing the playoffs.
"When we see Collin, Elijah and our team as people, really upset and hurt by it, the football part came in second position, "says Donovan, reflecting on the incidents 12 months later." Football didn't mean anything then because as people they were in pain. We had the opportunity to experience what we are talking about and what 'was really important. "
The faithful have been honored to show their crimes, and although Donovan says he doesn ' t want to being on "high morale all the time or screaming from the rooftops ", he recognizes the responsibility he and his players have as athletes.
As for Donovan himself, it is easy to forget that thes forfeits - and the fallout from the pandemic, which caused a serious restructuring of the 2020 USL season - all came during his first year as manager.
The 39-year-old is still learning as a coach. He's made a name for himself as a player by adjusting his approach, and he's done the same as a coach - and been honest in our conversation about his weaknesses. He says he can 'see issues and issues very clearly' when watching Loyal, but he needs the support of his fellow coaches when it comes to implementing initiatives. solutions on the training ground.
When it comes to his strengths, he thinks he is at his best when it comes to engages with its players. “My best attribute is my… ability to connect emotionally with people. Our team makes the most of it when I'm on the pitchn, ”says Donovan. "What I'm good at is interactions with players and how I help them.
And that's the human side football that Donovan wants to continue to focus on, in addition to success on the pitch.
"At the end of the day, we play a game. know it's serious, I know it's people's livelihood, but we are playing a game, ”says Donovan. “There are a lot of people looking at us and paying attention, including young people, children. What kind of example are we giving? If we have a positive impact on life in this way, it is much more important than winning a football game. It really is. "