Landon Donovan says depression shortened his soccer career

Landon Donovan, left, speaks about his retirement from soccer next to Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, during a press conference Friday in Bristol, Conn.
Landon Donovan, left, speaks about his retirement from soccer next to Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, during a press conference Friday in Bristol, Conn.
(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

The reason for Landon Donovan’s three-month break from soccer last year wasn’t so much burnout or exhaustion as it was depression, Donovan acknowledged Friday just hours before his final game with the U.S. national team.

“There’s many people in life who deal with periods of depression,” said Donovan, who announced earlier this summer that this season will be his last. “There’s many people in this country who have to deal with mental health issues. There are many people who are undiagnosed, many people who are probably afraid to admit it. There’s many people in the past – both famous and otherwise – who have dealt with these kind of issues.”

Donovan, who has been seeing a therapist for six years, added: “It’s human nature to have sad periods in life. I would much rather feel than not feel things. And to go through some of the things we as human beings go through, it’s normal to feel that way.”


Donovan, 32, widely regarded as the best player in U.S. soccer history, walked away from soccer temporarily after leading the Galaxy to its last Major League Soccer title two years ago. And that decision cost him the captain’s armband with the Galaxy as well as his spot with the U.S. team. He eventually won back his spot on Juergen Klinsmann’s national team only to be cut just weeks before the start of what would have been his fourth World Cup.

The all-time leader in goals and assists with both the U.S. national team and in MLS, Donovan is retiring for good at the end of the current season with the Galaxy. He will play approximately 30 minutes against Ecuador in a friendly Friday in East Hartford, Conn., in a game that will largely be a send-off for Donovan.

Given the difficult relationship between Donovan and Klinsmann, Friday’s emotional send-off was delicately brokered by Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation,

“When I look back at it, not only has he accomplished as much as he’d done, he’s done it his way,” Gulati said. “It wasn’t necessarily the path that people might have chosen.”

Not everyone bought into the attempt at detente, though, with Donovan saying Klinsmann has never called him and Klinsmann, who demands total commitment to soccer, again questioning some of Donovan’s career choices.

“As a coach, you always want to see a player drive for his 100%,” Klinsmann said. “I’m looking at Landon always that I wish, in a certain way, he could have done a bit more here and a bit more there.”


But Donovan said he has no regrets.

“I think it’s easy for people to judge others and their career choices and their life choices,” he said. “I’ve tried to choose not to do that because I don’t live anyone’s else’s life. And likewise nobody lives my life. So I’ve always tried to make decisions that were best for me and best for my family and best for my happiness. I realize that’s not always popular with other people.”

“I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made.”

As for what he plans to do in retirement, Donovan said he’d like to travel. Perhaps go to college, something his soccer career prevented him from doing. He’s also talked about coaching and broadcasting.

“It might not get as much publicity, the next phase of my life. But I very much want to be helpful in the world,” he said. “I want to be of service. Make the world a better place.

“That’s my objective. I don’t know exactly what form that will take but that’s my goal.”