Donovan: 'I still know I should have been there'

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Landon bids adieu to team USA
BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) -- Hours before his final game for the red, white and blue, Landon Donovan made no effort to hide his anger at Jurgen Klinsmann.

The face of American soccer for more than a decade, Donovan had been counting on going to his fourth World Cup.

And then after practice at Stanford Stadium on May 22, Klinsmann called in the 32-year-old forward and told him he wasn't going to Brazil

Donovan was stunned and livid.

He recorded commercials poking fun at his exclusion, criticized Klinsmann's tactics during the tournament and was reluctant to accept an offer from U.S. Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati to play a celebratory finale for the national team. Ultimately, Donovan accepted and was set to make his 157th international appearance in an exhibition against Ecuador on Friday night.

Looking back, Donovan thinks getting axed benefited him in an unexpected manner.

"Although I didn't agree with the decision and I still know I should have been there, it was also good for me to say, you know what, it's not always going to go your way," he said. "And it took time for me to get to that place. I'm human. I had some very real emotions after. But after a while I said: Maybe this is a going to be a good thing. And I wouldn't have the opportunity to grow had it not happened. I certainly grew a lot more by that happening than if I had gone to the World Cup and played there, and in that way you can learn a lot from it.

"I had the opportunity to feel what other players have felt in my career. A lot of times when I made a team I was so happy for me that I forgot about the guy who got cut, so for the first time it kind of put that in front of my face."

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Donovan: 'I still know I should have been there'
United States' Landon Donovan, left, speaks about his retirement from soccer as Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation, listens during a press conference in Bristol, Conn. Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. Donovan makes his last international appearance Friday night in a soccer exhibition against Ecuador. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
FILE - At left, in an April 3, 2002, file photo, Landon Donovan of the United States dribbles the ball during the second half of a friendly match against Mexico in Denver. At right, in a July 21, 2013, file photo, Landon Donovan of the United States dribbles the ball during the first half in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament against El Salvador in Baltimore. In a matchup of teams from this year's World Cup, the U.S. plays Ecuador, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, in an exhibition that marks Landon Donovan's finale with the American national team. (AP Photo/File)
Sunil Gulati, left, president of the United States Soccer Federation, United States' Landon Donovan, and Don Garber, right, commissioner of Major League Soccer, pose for a photo after a press conference in Bristol, Conn. Friday, Oct. 10, 2014 regarding Donovan's retirement from soccer. Donovan makes his last international appearance Friday night in a soccer exhibition against Ecuador. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
United States soccer head coach Jurgen Klinsmann speaks about the legacy of Landon Donovan during a press conference in East Hartford, Conn. Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Nearly 14 years after his U.S. national team debut, Landon Donovan prepares for his farewell in Friday night's exhibition against Ecuador. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan, widely considered as America's best ever footballer, announces will retire at the end of the MLS season, at a news conference at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. The 32-year-old is the top goal scorer in MLS history and a five-time league champion. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan (10) reacts to a call against Mexico during the second half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, April 2, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (AP Photo/Rock Scuteri)
United States' Landon Donovan, controls the ball during a training session on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, Stanford, Calif. The US national soccer team kicked off its preparation camp at Stanford University preparing for the World Cup tournament, which gets underway in June. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
United States' Landon Donovan prior to a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica in San Jose, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
United States' Landon Donovan looks on during the first half in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament against El Salvador, Sunday, July 21, 2013, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
United States' Landon Donovan gestures after scoring on a penalty kick during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer game against Cuba on Saturday, July 13, 2013, in Sandy, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
President Barack Obama, center is presented with an autographed soccer ball by LA Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, second from right, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2013, honoring the Stanley Cup hockey champion Los Angeles Kings and the Major League Soccer champion LA Galaxy. Looking on are Kings captain Dustin Brown, left, Kings coach Darryl Sutter, behind the president, and Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, right. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
United States forward Landon Donovan during a FIFA World Cup qualifying game against Antigua and Barbuda Friday, June 8, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 25: Landon Donovan #10 of Los Angeles Galaxy in action in the first half during the MLS match against the Philadelphia Union at StubHub Center on May 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The Galaxy defeated the Union 4-1. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 02: Landon Donovan #10 and DeAndre Yedlin #2 of USA warm up before the International Friendly against Mexico at University of Phoenix Stadium on April 2, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 02: Landon Donovan #10 of USA on the sidelines before the International Friendly against Mexico at University of Phoenix Stadium on April 2, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. Mexico and USA played to a 2-2 tie. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 28: Landon Donovan #10 of the United States brings the ball up the field against Panama during the CONCACAF Gold Cup final match at Soldier Field on July 28, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The United States defeated Panama 1-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 28: (Front L-R) Eddie Johnson #26, Joe Cornoa #6, DeMarcus Beasley #7, Landon Donovan #10 and Kyle Beckerman #14 (Back L-R) Stuart Holden #11, Clarence Goodson #21, Matt Besler #25, Michael Parkhurst #15, Alejandro Bedoya and Nick Rimando #1 of the United States pose before the CONCACAF Gold Cup final match against Panama at Soldier Field on July 28, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The United States defated Panama 1-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Gulati sat at Donovan's side during a half-hour pregame news conference on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" set, about 20 miles from Rentschler Field, and maintained his refusal to comment on Klinsmann's decision.

Without Donovan, the U.S. advanced from a difficult first-round group by defeating Ghana, drawing Portugal and losing to Germany. The Americans were knocked out with a 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium, and Friday's match was their first at home since leaving Brazil.

"Three, four months ago, if someone asked if this day would happen, I would have said you're out of your mind and you're crazy," Donovan said. "I give all the credit to Sunil for sticking with me through some hard conversations and understanding what was important and making it happen.

"I believe this is a day I deserve. I believe this is a day my family deserves for all the sacrifices they've made."

Donovan anticipated 20 family members would attend, and he said the USSF had treated them "like kings and queens" this week. It helped to alleviate some of his vexation.

" People forget, for those of us who weren't selected this summer to play in Brazil, it's not only difficult for us, it's difficult for our families," he said. "In many instances, our families had this amazing vacation trip of a lifetime planned, and that was taken from them."

The Los Angeles Galaxy forward, the American career leader in international goals (57) and assists (58), is retiring at the end of the Major League Soccer season.

Donovan played in all 12 U.S. games at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups, scoring an American-record five goals. His stoppage-time winner against Algeria four years ago gave the U.S. first place in its group for the first time in 80 years and created one of American soccer's iconic moments.

Asked about his relationship with Klinsmann, all Donovan would say is: "You know." It took him awhile to accept Gulati's offer of a testimonial match.

"The thought of being in this environment again didn't seem all that appealing at the time," Donovan said. "But at the end of the day I looked at the big picture and realized what a special day this could be. It's almost like, if you care to believe this stuff, in many ways it's meant to be. I think it's no coincidence it's 10-10 today."

Donovan took over the No. 10 jersey following captain Claudio Reyna's retirement in 2006. But for all Donovan's accomplishments, Klinsmann said Thursday he wished Donovan "could have done a bit more" and established a career with a European club rather than remain in MLS.

"I think it's easy for people to judge others in their career choices and their life choices," Donovan said. "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 people. I'm sure a lot of people wish my career had gone a different way."

Donovan took a four-month sabbatical from soccer after the 2012 season, a decision that strained his relationship with Klinsmann, who believes top players should train virtually year-round. Donovan needed time away - he has been open about his struggles with depression.

"It's human nature to have sad periods in life," he said. "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."

He's not quite sure what awaits. Attending college and travel are among the possibilities. He'll remain involved with the USSF, but how he's not sure.

Coaching intrigues him, but not pros. Perhaps the under-17 team, the level where he first gained world-wide attention in 1999.

"I wouldn't want to deal with male soccer egos. That's a headache that I think nobody would want, even though some coaches take it on," he said. "I think being able to really be hands on early in people's careers would be helpful, because that's where I needed the most help."

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