While the attention leading up to the 2014 MLS All-Star Game had been squarely focused on Thierry Henry, possibly his last summer classic if he decides to move on from MLS following the season, another legend was keeping his plans secret, not wanting to attract the glare of countless cameras. That could wait another day.
And so, on Thursday, less than 24 hours after MLS had shocked German champions Bayern Munich 2-1 in front of a raucous crowd at Providence Park in Portland, OR, Landon Donovan announced his own impending end-of-season retirement from professional soccer.
The 32-year old, whose career has spanned nearly a half of his life. is walking away from the game with his head held high. The 14-year MLS veteran is the league's all-time goal scorer, capturing the top spot in the list earlier this season. He has won five MLS Cups -- two with the San Joe Earthquakes and three with the LA Galaxy. Known as "Judas" by the Quakes' most loyal fans for his apparently engineered exit from the South Bay to the Southland following the 2004 season, Donovan is intrinsically linked between the two California Clasico rivals.
In Portland, Donovan featured in his 14th straight All-Star game, a mark no one else in league history can match. His first All-Star game was in 2001, as a young, brash rookie. Donovan played for the West along with five of his Earthquakes teammates. The exciting young phenom was the star attraction that afternoon at Spartan Stadium, scoring four goals, including a stoppage time equalizer, in a wildly entertaining 6-6 draw against the East. He was presented the All-Star Game MVP award in a landslide decision.
In this year's game, the opponent was Bayern, a technically sound side that presented the MLS players with a difficult challenge. The hosts trailed 0-1 at halftime, when Donovan was brought into the game for Henry. Within minutes, MLS had tied the game through Bradley Wright-Phillips, setting the scene for Donovan's heroics.
The winning goal was initiated with a perfectly floated cross into the area by hometown Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri. Donovan, hugging the offside line, deftly trapped the ball, and fended off a defender to create some space in front of goal. With Bayern's World Cup winning 'keeper Manuel Neuer bearing down on him, Donovan calmly slotted the ball past Germany's number one and into the net for the second MLS goal of the night.
The celebration was on, and taking note of the Galaxy's Friday night match against the Quakes at the StubHub center, All-Star head coach Caleb Porter, pulled Donovan from the game following his goal. He was named the MVP -- bookending his 14-year All-Star Game run -- in the last summer classic he would ever play.
Out of the spotlight and back in Los Angeles, Donovan made his shocking retirement announcement. At a press conference later that day, those in attendance stated how calm he appeared, how at peace he seemed to be. Donovan said he wanted to win one more MLS Cup, and he was dedicated to that mission in his professional soccer swan song.
Should Donovan reach that goal, like his bookend MLS All-Star Game MVPs, he'll have a bookend set of MLS championships too. The rookie forward was an integral part of San Jose's first championship side in 2001, and only he and Toronto FC's Dwayne De Rosario are still active players in the league.
Whenever his last game is played, Donovan will end his career as the greatest player MLS has ever seen.