Landon Donovan, the career scoring leader in Major League Soccer and for the U.S. national team, said he will retire at the end of this season.
Donovan, 32, announced his decision yesterday in a Facebook post, ending a 14-season MLS career during which league attendance jumped 24 percent and the number of teams almost doubled.
“Landon is to MLS what Michael Jordan was to the NBA, Wayne Gretzky was to the NHL and Tiger Woods was to the PGA Tour,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in an e-mailed statement, “a player whose sporting accomplishments and popularity transformed their respective leagues and set a new standard for how the game would be played.”
Born in Ontario, California, Donovan played in three World Cups for the U.S. and scored 57 times for the national team, 18 more than the next-closest player. His 58 assists and five World Cup goals are also U.S. records.
“I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have played a role in the remarkable growth of MLS and U.S. Soccer,” Donovan said. “And while my career as a player will soon be over, rest assured I will stay connected on many levels to the beautiful game.”
Donovan was left off the roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, during which he was an on-air analyst for ESPN.
In an MLS career that began in 2001, Donovan won five league titles, two with the San Jose Earthquakes and three with the Los Angeles Galaxy, his current team. His 138 goals and 22 playoff scores are most in league history. He retires second in both assists (124) and game-winning goals (38).
In Donovan’s first MLS season, the six-year-old league had 12 teams and played 158 games with an average attendance of 14,961 per game. The league now has 19 teams, with plans for five more by 2020, and plays a 323-game schedule. Teams averaged 18,594 fans per game last year, and Garber has said he wants the league to be among the world’s elite by 2022.
Donovan won six Golden Boots as the league’s top scorer, and four Most Valuable Player awards. His six All-Star Game goals are also a record, including the game winner for the MLS All-Stars two nights ago in a 2-1 win against German champion Bayern Munich.
“Donovan is one of the most significant figures in the history of soccer in the United States,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who coached the U.S. from 1998-2006, said on the team’s website. “His influence on MLS and soccer in this country will continue to be felt for many years to come.”
Donovan spent two years starting in 1999 at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany before playing three seasons for San Jose, during which time the Earthquakes won the MLS Cup twice. He joined the Galaxy in 2005 and had loan spells at Bayern in 2009 and with English club Everton in 2010 and 2012.
“This day carries mixed emotions for me,” Donovan said. “After spending half my life as a professional soccer player, I also am excited to begin a new chapter and pursue other opportunities that will challenge me and allow me to grow as a person.”
The Galaxy finish the regular season with an Oct. 25 road game against the Seattle Sounders. The team is currently in third place in the Western Conference, which would qualify for the playoffs.