Seeking rainbow days

Seeking rainbow days

Seeking rainbow days

Round and round the soccer field Landon Donovan ran with his teammates during a fitness test, silent, drenched in the cold rain, chasing something ineffable about himself and his career.

He is the best soccer player in the United States, the national team’s playmaker and career leader in goals and assists, the reigning most valuable player in Major League Soccer. Over the winter, he won rave reviews while on loan to Everton of the English Premier League. He will soon play in this third World Cup, at age 28.
And yet Donovan gives the impression that he is always running in circles, restless and seeking, reaching for something both tantalizing and frustrating just beyond his grasp – self-awareness, contentment, respect, responsibility shouldered.

Certainly he is the most introspective. His talks were dominated by soccer, his broken marriage, the disappointment of his 2006 World Cup in Germany, the hope for deliverance in 2010 in South Africa.

Sometimes, his words grew fuzzy with New Age spirituality or inflected with the therapy he has undergone. He described himself as “more real” and “centered.” One could almost smell incense burning. At other times, he sounded like Popeye, saying, “I am who I am as a player.”

Yet, Donovan also spoke earnestly and with an openness that has grown increasingly rare among athletes, whose personalities seem to grow as flat as the posters that fans hang on their walls.
“At 20, it was youthful exuberance and naivete and literally just playing every day because you love to play,” Donovan said of his first World Cup in 2002.
“Now there’s more responsibility,” he said. “In my opinion, there’s also greater opportunity. I enjoy the challenge of that now. In 2006, that became burdensome. I wasn’t ready for it. Now I’m ready for it. I’m really excited for it.”

Approaching the 2006 World Cup, Bruce Arena, then the US coach, challenged Donovan to be more consistently assertive and reliable, to be necessarily selfish in putting the ball into the net, to shed his youthful fearlessness for adult dependability. Instead, Donovan played meekly and the Americans were eliminated in the first round.
“I went through a period where there was a lot of attention; with that came a lot of pressure and a lot of soccer,” Donovan said.
“I got to the point where it just wore me down. I thought to myself: Why am I doing this? This is just too much.”

He described himself as being lost then, having to find his way again. “You hope you get back to a place where you find what this really means to you,” Donovan said. “It doesn’t mean every time I now go onto the field, I’m so excited like I was when I was 20. But you realize why you’re motivated to do it.”

Last June, he played superbly at the Confederations Cup as the United States took a two-goal lead in the final before losing to Brazil, 3-2.
This was Donovan as an elite player – relentless, charging at defenders with speed and imagination, running down balls, hounding the suggestion that his career was something less than promised.

“His commitment to every game, his work, his mobility, his pure competitiveness, are all things that I think came shining through,” Bob Bradley, the US coach, said at the time.
“To see him in that kind of form, that kind of mentality, is something that sets a good standard for everybody else,” Bradley said.

Shortly after the tournament, it became public that Donovan had separated from his wife, the actress Bianca Kajlich. But he continues to speak fondly of her. On Tuesday, he said that the often-futile life of an actor had taught him much about perseverance. Next month comes the chance to test himself again in the World Cup. Donovan said that he would prefer to play on the wing but that he would play forward if asked. Soon, he was done talking for the remainder of training camp. There is much more running to do, in search of World Cup success, in search of questions he still needs answered.

New York Times News Service

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