COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) — There’s nothing like a visit to the field to get Landon Donovan’s competitive juices flowing again.
The former Major League Soccer star will make his coaching debut in the Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game on Tuesday in Commerce City, Colorado, part of All-Star Week.
“At the end of my career, I very much enjoyed working with kids of that age. So, when this opportunity came up I thought it would be really fun,” Donovan said. “I remember at the All-Star Game last year we all had the opportunity to watch the Chipotle Homegrown Game and see all the different kids that had come up through these youth systems.
“And it’s going to be really special for me and I hope the kids get a lot out of it, too, because I would like to help them in any way I can even if only for a couple of days.”
While there’s plenty of things Donovan said he’s glad he doesn’t have to deal with anymore since retiring at the end of last year as the top goal-scorer in MLS history — all that travel, so many public appearances, the rigorous schedule — there’s one thing he longs for.
“I miss the games,” he said.
Donovan, who played a major role in building MLS into what it is today, attended the debut earlier this month of Steven Gerrard, the English midfielder who joined the LA Galaxy following Liverpool’s season in England’s Barclays Premier League.
“It was really fun to be there and watch and I sat next to David Beckham, whom I hadn’t seen for a long time, and we sat and talked and he said the same thing and it was interesting. Because you get there and the energy in the stadium and I think that’s what you can’t really replicate anywhere else.
“And I was thinking, talking about this opportunity, when I had the chance to do this again, just to be around it again it’s pretty incredible. And to see it through the eyes of young men will be really fascinating for me and I think it will give me the opportunity to sort of feel that again and it will be a great opportunity.”
The 22-man roster that Donovan will coach features the top American U-23 and U-20 players, a handful of which are fresh off the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Donovan said he’s impressed at how advanced today’s youth are compared to when he was their age.
“There’s a lot of differences. One is, from a purely soccer technical standpoint, they’re all better. So, they’ve had better coaching. I grew up with a baseball coach when I was 8 years old who knew nothing about soccer. Now these kids are getting former Major League Soccer players coaching them.”
They also benefit from having a league and players to follow regularly.
“When we came up, we didn’t have the opportunity to watch other people and see them and clearly with the way the Internet and social media is now they see the players, they see their idols, they hear them talking, they see what they do when they’re off the field, they understand all the parts that are important to being a pro,” Donovan said.
It’s long been that way in soccer-heavy countries, Donovan said, so international players realized much earlier than American kids did what it took to become a pro.
“You wouldn’t see them overly confident or egotistical about themselves because they watched their idols and they realized that that’s not the way to do it,” Donovan said.
Donovan learned the hard way when he was a teenager.
“I was the star player on my high school team and my club team, and so I went to Germany and thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to be the star player.’ But other kids around the world understand that it doesn’t work that way. You have to earn it just like everybody else,” he said.
“So, American kids nowadays understand a lot more clearly what other kids have already been accustomed to for many years. And they realize that it’s fun and that it’s a game but that it’s also a job. So I think they’re learning that at a younger age, which in some ways is good and in some ways is probably not so good. But if you’re going to be a professional, the sooner you learn that the better.”