Landon Donovan retires from MLS a champion. (Binkowski)

 

By his own admission, Landon Donovan’s last game as a professional soccer player was not his best.

“I didn’t have a great game,” he said, a white towel draped over his bare shoulders as he talked about the LA Galaxy’s victory over the New England Revolution. It was his last post-match press conference and Donovan was fielding the anticipated questions: what now? are you sure retirement is the right decision? how do you feel?

But one question that wasn’t asked of the 32 year old, perhaps because it was a fleeting and inconsequential one that had no place amidst the jubilation of the Galaxy’s historic fifth championship title—what if?

Landon Donovan in his last soccer game. (Binkowski)

What if Donovan had been at his best in the game? Would he have scored a thrilling, game-winning goal as he done so many times for the U.S. Men’s National team? Would he have at least had an assist in the final 2-1 outcome?

What if Donovan stuck around for one more year? Or two? Surely playing into your mid to late 30s is not unheard of, especially for players who are considered exceptional.

What if Donovan had stuck it out in Europe? If he had “sucked it up” as his detractors had wanted him to do after he announced in his early 20s that he no longer wanted to play for Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen? Would he have achieved greatness on a global scale? Would he have continued to develop and maintain form by playing in European leagues that are superior to MLS?

And what if he hadn’t take that now infamous sabbatical from soccer? The months long quest to get away from the game and find himself, while also rediscovering his passion for playing. Would he have been included on the U.S. World Cup squad that played in Brazil over the summer? Would he have lifted them, emotionally if not physically, to the tournament’s quarterfinals? What could he have accomplished if he had chosen a different path?

The questions are as moot as the answers are unknowable to all except maybe the most imaginative physicist. And they are irrelevant.

Because Donovan at the moment is seated in front of the press and is talking about the last game he has played as a professional, retiring as a champion and the satisfaction he feels in seeing the happiness on his teammates’ face as they celebrate in the locker room.  And if nothing else, Donovan’s life since his return from his break has been enjoying the moments.  The victories and titles and accolades and money are nice. But it’s living in the moment that brings him fulfillment. It just so happens that at this particular moment, Donovan reigns.