Arguably the best player that soccer-lukewarm America has ever produced has taken his world-class game from casual kids' matches in the backyards of Redlands, to the massive professional arenas of Europe, and back to Southern California, to the L.A. Galaxy in Carson. Come June, Donovan is expected to anchor the U.S. team in the World Cup.
In the meantime, the thoroughly globalized Donovan proves that although you can take the player out of California, you can't take the California out of . . . well, you know.
Your father played semi-pro ice hockey.
I spent many weekends with my dad watching hockey on TV, and my dad and I talk about this all the time -- about how similar the two sports are, the way you move and the way things happen in hockey.
There wasn't a lot of professional soccer here when you grew up.
There was none. We never had cable TV, we never saw soccer games from around the world; we just loved going outside and playing. That was all I knew about soccer: going outside and playing with my friends.
I wonder why so many soccer teams have singular names -- like the Galaxy, or Manchester United -- but other sports team names here are plural: the Dodgers, the Packers, the Kings.
That's interesting. I think we're more into mascots here. Around the world, a lot of times it's just the city [name] -- Barcelona or Madrid or Milan.
What's the difference between playing here and in Europe?
The media coverage and the fans. We have fans that are as hard core as the fans in Europe; we just don't have the numbers. There might be a thousand Galaxy fans that are hard core; at Everton [in England] this year, there were 30,000. Then the media there put so much pressure on the players; you're under the spotlight. It's a blessing in disguise here. We talk about how we want [U.S. soccer] to be bigger, but the other side is everyone's into your business all the time , so it's not always a nice thing.
As an American player, are you treated differently abroad?
It used to be that way. When I was 17, I went to Germany. They wouldn't come out and say it blatantly, but the way they treated you on the field -- they wouldn't pass you the ball sometimes. It's almost like they didn't trust you. Nowadays, a lot of hard work by a lot of different players has helped to change that perception.
Do you say "football" there?
When I went to England this year, during an interview, I said "soccer" three or four times. I realized how stupid that sounded to these people, who invented the sport and have been saying "football" for over 100 years, and I was saying soccer this and soccer that. So I am cognizant of it when I'm in other parts of the world. When I'm in Latin [America], I'll say futbol. Maybe it doesn't really matter, but it's respectful.
You speak Spanish -- does that help?
I could never have imagined how much it was going to help me. Growing up, it was literally a means of being able to play with a lot of the kids, so I had to learn Spanish.
The U.S. beat Canada at ice hockey during the Vancouver Olympics, and I felt bad. We don't care much about ice hockey, and they love it. How would it feel for Americans to win the World Cup when it's the rest of the world that's so passionate about it?