SAN DIEGO (AP) — When Landon Donovan drives past his bronze statue Tuesday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, there will be a brief moment of nostalgia and gratitude.
Then it’ll be time to get to work.
Donovan will coach his San Diego Loyal against the team he once starred for, the LA Galaxy of the MLS, in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It’ll be the biggest match in the Loyal’s three-year history.
It probably wasn’t totally a coincidence that the second-division Loyal of the USL drew the Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup, the oldest soccer tournament in the United States that serves as a national championship for all levels.
Donovan played the bulk of his MLS career with the Galaxy, from 2005-2014 and again in 2016. He scored a team-record 113 goals and 107 assists and led the Galaxy to MLS Cup titles four times.
“All in proper perspective, it’s really exciting,” Donovan said. “Having the opportunity, first, to travel there and play on their field, which is an iconic stadium in our country in soccer, is great for our players and very exciting. But then it’s an opportunity you may never get again as a player. There’s no guarantee you‘re going to get to play players of that quality again. I think that’s the way the guys will approach it and it’s really exciting for them.”
The Loyal have played MLS teams three times in exhibitions, including losing 1-0 to Vancouver this preseason. They beat FC Dallas 1-0 in the 2020 preseason and lost 1-0 to Seattle in 2021.
This will be the first time they’ve faced the Galaxy, who play 112 miles from the Loyal’s home stadium at the University of San Diego.
“They are prohibitive favorites,” Donovan said. “They have players on their roster who make $4 million, $5 million, $6 million, versus guys on our roster who in most cases make at most six figures. It’s a whole different animal.
“The experience will be literally priceless for our players,” he added. “But we’re not going there to just be a wall ornament. We’re going there to try to win the game. There’s no question. We will do our best to do so.”
It will be Donovan’s first time back at the suburban Los Angeles pitch since his bronze statue was unveiled in October to honor his legacy as one of the greatest players in MLS history as well as in American soccer overall.
The statue shows Donovan in a post-goal celebration, with his arms spread wide and mouth open. It’s not far from a statue of David Beckham.
“When we drive by it on Tuesday there will be a brief moment of nostalgia and appreciation for the Galaxy doing that for me but then I’m really just focused on the game,” Donovan said. “I’m very proud of it because I sacrificed a lot to have something like that, hopefully in perpetuity but at this point, it’s nothing more than that because I’m focused on the game.”
Donovan said he thinks the statue is an accurate likeness of him. “I haven’t really looked that closely. I think it’s probably always challenging to make it exactly lifelike. I’ll be honest, I’m not the most handsome guy so it’s always going to be a challenging task,” he said.
The Loyal, who are in first place in the USL’s Western Conference, beat Albion San Diego of the National Independent Soccer Association in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup.