This time there was no doubt in Landon Donovan’s mind.
On Thursday, the 32-year-old Galaxy forward, widely considered to be the best American soccer player in history, announced he would quit playing after this season.
Donovan took a controversial, four-month sabbatical from soccer starting in late 2012 to decide if he wanted to keep playing.
Last year, a refreshed Donovan opted to return, even though the sabbatical seemed to cost him a roster spot on the U.S. national team for this year’s World Cup.
“The most important thing is that I’m happy as a person and this is the right time for me,” Donovan told a news conference Thursday at StubHub Center, the Galaxy’s home venue. “I just realized more and more that my gut was telling me it was time to do this.”
Donovan’s decision came one day after he scored the winning goal in Major League Soccer’s All-Star game, where he made a record 14th consecutive appearance. The MLS squad defeated Germany’s Bayern Munich in the game, 2-1.
That’s one of many records held by Donovan, who’s earning a base salary of $4.25 million this year. The Ontario native also has the career MLS scoring record with 138 goals — including four so far this season — and he’s the leading scorer in MLS playoff history with 22 goals.
“There is no doubt that Major League Soccer would not be what it is today without Landon Donovan,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.
Donovan also is the all-time leader in goals (57) for the U.S. men’s national team as well as in U.S. World Cup game appearances (12) and goals (five).
Citing physical and mental fatigue, Donovan started his sabbatical after the Galaxy won its fourth MLS championship in 2012 and on the eve of the final round of World Cup qualifying.
But after he returned to the game his relationship with U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann was chilly as the Americans trained for the World Cup.
Then, in May, Klinsmann cut Donovan from the U.S. roster and set off an international debate over whether the move was warranted in light of Donovan’s record.
Donovan said he was sad and disappointed by the decision and even momentarily rooted against the team, but promptly became one of the team’s most fervent supporters.
“Quite simply the best player ever to wear the USMNT jersey,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said of Donovan on Twitter on Thursday.
Donovan acknowledged that the misgivings about continuing with soccer that he weighed during his sabbatical resurfaced this season.
“In the last few weeks I started thinking a lot about it again,” he said, adding that he made the decision now to give the Galaxy “the appropriate amount of time to work on what they want to do next” and to “enjoy the last few months of my career.”
His announcement came just past midway in the MLS season, with the Galaxy playing well and sitting in third place in the MLS Western Conference. The top five teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs.
“I want to go out as a champion,” said Donovan, a five-time title winner including his time with the Galaxy and, earlier in his career, the San Jose Earthquakes. “It’s my last chance.”
Coincidentally, the Galaxy’s next game is against San Jose on Friday at StubHub Center, and if Donovan starts he would be making his 300th MLS start.
As for staying in soccer in some role after this season, Donovan said he had made only one decision so far: “I absolutely want to work with kids.”