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Q&A with Landon Donovan: Young MLS talent, the US-Mexico Rivalry and thoughts on a future career in coaching
Landon Donovan spoke with Football Every Day’s Alex Morgan and other reporters following the MLS Homegrown Team’s training session at Avaya Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. The former United States national team forward led the Homegrown team through their paces in a light workout ahead of the Chipotle Homegrown game on Wednesday and then offered his thoughts on young Major League Soccer talent, the United States-Mexico rivalry, the future of American soccer and a potential career in coaching.
On the rise of younger players in MLS:
It’s not only the development of the league, it’s also the development of the national team. If we ever want to compete at the highest level, we can’t have twenty-three or twenty-four-year-old guys playing their first game in MLS. They have to be [debuting] at seventeen, eighteen or nineteen. I’m glad to see that happening and am glad that we have coaches in the league that are willing to give these kids chances.
That, combined with the USL partnerships have been crucial. Seven years ago we had kids signing homegrown deals at eighteen and that jump to the professional game was way too big — now they have a stepping stone. It’s still not perfect but it’s a lot better.
On MLS academies:
It’s no secret that Dallas, Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls and the Galaxy make up the majority of this roster. It’s not because we’re partial to those teams, it’s because they’re developing the players that can do it. You have to give them a lot of credit.
There’s going to be a day soon when players are being sold for five, ten, fifteen and twenty million dollars. So it’s not only smart for your first time, it’s a smart business. I think the teams understand that and I give them a lot of credit for investing in their academies the way they have.
On the growth of the academy system:
There are people a lot smarter than me making [Development Academy] decisions and I think they’ve done a pretty good job so far. None of it’s perfect, I think everybody wishes it was better, but a lot of that is down to resources. If you have unlimited funding like some English or Spanish teams have, it’s a lot easier. We need more resources, which is happening slowly, and it will keep getting better.
On Homegrown Team forward Jordan Morris:
Jordan impressed me years ago when I first saw him. He’s a tremendous young player. I think we were all a little bit unsure how he was going to adjust from the college game, even though that sounds a little bit weird to say because he played for the national team. I think he’s been fantastic. In a difficult year for Seattle, he’s been the one constant bright spot and I think he’s had a really good start to the season.
On Homegrown Team midfielder Tommy Thompson:
Tommy is terrific. I’ve spent time with Tommy with the US U-20s in New Zealand and last year at the Homegrown Game. First and foremost for me he’s a good kid and a good human being. That trumps everything.
Aside from that, he’s obviously excited to be here in front of his friends and family. He’s been terrific and I hope he has another great game on Wednesday.
On the younger players understanding the US-Mexico rivalry:
I think they get it now. When I first started with the national team I didn’t fully understand [the rivalry] until I played in a few of the games. The time you really understand is when you play in Mexico. They’ll get a sense of the rivalry on Wednesday for the guys who haven’t [played for the national team], but I think these guys understand.
A lot of them are a part of club teams that have played in the CONCACAF Champions League…against Mexican teams so they get that feel.
On returning to soccer:
I think when I first retired I was happy to get far away from the field but when I’m out here, especially with this age group, it’s really enjoyable. We’ll see what happens, you never know [if I may coach in the future], but for now I’m enjoying the experience. It’s been fun for everyone I think.
The more I do this, yes. But I’m not stupid enough to just think I could just step in and do a good job. It’s like anything in life, being successful is not an accident. You have to work at it.
I think there are some coaches that assume they will be a good coach because they were a good player and I know that’s not the case. I want to take the proper steps and if I still feel passionate about it and want to keep doing it, then I’ll do it. But there’s no pressure, I want to do it if I enjoy and am good at it. If not, then I won’t do it.
On his team talks:
I’ve got a lot of former coach-speak going on in my head this whole week and then I realize when I’m out there I say some of the things that I hated that they used to say. But I guess that what happens, it’s like parenting.
On the growth of the Earthquakes organization:
It’s really is amazing to see what’s happened here, it’s symbolic of the league in general. We used to park at Spartan Stadium, drive thirty minutes West Valley College to train, and then drive back. Now you see the stadium and this beautiful training field; I hope these kids understand that it wasn’t always this way.
On visiting the Bay Area:
I’ve always loved it here, I love coming back. I get back here probably about once a year. It’s nostalgic because this isn’t only where my soccer career started, but my whole life as an adult. I see a lot of the same people still working at the stadium every time I come back here and go to a lot of the same places and restaurants. It’s nice to be back.
On Avaya Stadium:
I’ve never been to Avaya before actually, so it was interesting to get to see it. Obviously, you hear great things about it. I think it’s beautiful. It looks like it’s tight, compact and loud in there so it will be fun for us.