Decision forces Donovan to favor MLS Cup over US

LA star defends move to skip USMNT friendlies, says he's earned right to make that decision

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CARSON, Calif. – After securing a spot in MLS Cup 2011, LA Galaxy captain Landon Donovan had a decision to make.

He had been called up to the United States national team for a friendly against France in Paris, but his club had just reached the championship match.

Ultimately, Donovan chose club over country, and while the decision may have seemed simple and straightforward, it was not quite that easy for him.

READ: Landon Donovan withdraws from U.S. squad

“It was very hard to make,” Donovan said after Galaxy training on Friday. “I had to weigh a lot of different things. Fortunately, when I kind of sat and thought, I’ve been a guy who, since I started, has always been fully committed to that team and probably gone into a lot of games that I wasn’t physically right, I wasn’t healthy. So I think I’ve earned the right to make that decision.”

Originally, Donovan was supposed to have gone to Paris regardless of the Galaxy’s result in the Western Conference Championship against Real Salt Lake. The plan going into that match was that if the Galaxy beat RSL, Donovan was supposed to have traveled to France, joined up with the US, played in Friday’s match, and returned home while the US continued onto Slovenia for a match on Nov. 15.

But Donovan’s health has not been 100 percent recently, as he missed most of October – including a pair of US friendlies on American soil – due to a quadriceps injury. Add to that the travel involved and the possibility of injury, and the negatives outweighed the positives.

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“The last thing anyone would want would be to go there, play the game, get hurt and miss the final and then we’d never forgive any of us,” Donovan said. “Had this been the beginning of the season, it might have been a different story. Had I not been injured previously, it might have been a different story. There were a lot of factors that played into that decision, and when all those factors were added up, it overwhelmingly made sense to stay here.”

Donovan has been a stalwart for the US national team since bursting onto the scene in late 2000. While he has been the team’s top scorer and a key figure in numerous tournaments and friendly matches, the games have come at a price his MLS clubs have paid throughout the years.

“There have been many games in my career that I’ve missed with my MLS team to play in friendlies for the US. There was one this year; I missed the Salt Lake game away to play in a US friendly,” Donovan said. “It’s not easy to do that.”

Coming to that decision was also perhaps made a bit easier by having a coach like Jurgen Klinsmann, who has played in championship games before.

“It was the right decision and, fortunately, I have a coach who has played at the highest level, who has played for championships and knows that you only get so many chances to play for a championship,” Donovan said. “He said to me that he wanted me to come, but he fully respected and will respect my decision. At the end of the day, he understands what this means to me, he knows how much I’ve put into this year for this opportunity.”

Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at buenodad@gmail.com.