CARSON, Calif. (AP) -- Until last weekend, Landon Donovan's pending retirement was a nebulous concept obscured by games, goals and a sport-wide outpouring of appreciation from the moment he made his stunning decision this summer.
This week, Donovan finally saw the finish line.
After the LA Galaxy host New England in the MLS Cup on Sunday afternoon, the greatest soccer player in U.S. history knows he will be voluntarily unemployed at 32 years old.
Donovan has most of his life ahead of him, and he plans to fill it with travel, education and working with kids. He probably also has several good years of soccer left in him, but Donovan remains determined to figure out who he is outside the sport that has defined his whole life.
"I'm just trying to stay present, and we'll see what happens afterward," Donovan said Friday at the Galaxy's training complex. "But for now, I just want to channel the excitement in the right way, as we all do, and really put it into a meaningful and special day on Sunday. After that, I can worry about the rest."
Donovan is seeking his record sixth MLS Cup championship when the favored Galaxy take on the Revolution. The Southern California native has carried MLS' banner for 14 years, spurning a European career to play a major role in building his sport and its U.S. league from a small-time operation into something bigger and better.
With his self-imposed end in sight, the top goal-scorer in MLS history can't help reflecting on the journey.
"I could have never in a million years imagined playing against Thierry Henry in brand-new stadiums," Donovan said. "I could have never imagined playing with Robbie (Keane), a guy I followed as I became a professional and idolized so much. Playing with David (Beckham) for so many years. All of those things, if you had said that in 2001, I would have said you're absolutely crazy."
Donovan is still one of MLS' best players after 14 years, and he will play a key role in his franchise's attempt to win its record fifth championship trophy Sunday. Teaming with MLS MVP Keane and Gyasi Zardes in a dynamic attacking combination, Donovan would love to make the difference one more time with his combination of speed and skill.
Although Donovan struggled to find the inner motivation for his sport at times in recent years, even taking a fairly brief sabbatical last year, he insists he still retains his hunger for goals and success in one last game.
"This week has been a little bit different than the past few, because I personally didn't know what was coming next (before this)," Donovan said. "Now I know, so I've been very excited every day to wake up and go to training. Candidly, I don't want it to end right now. It's been a lot of fun, and I'm going to have that attitude Sunday. I personally want it to be as enjoyable as possible, and that would be winning. I love winning, these guys deserve it, and I want to help them do that."
That plaintive note of wistfulness in Donovan's voice has been seized upon by fans, media and even his own friends as a reason to hope he won't walk away after all. Perhaps after an extended break, Donovan will revive his love for competition and the sport that brought him success and fame -- and a sizable fortune that probably won't get bigger without soccer.
But Donovan's coach, Bruce Arena, and his teammates say they believe he's done. Just as they did when Beckham abruptly left the Galaxy in late 2012 following back-to-back championships, Keane and Arena are ready to bid a winning goodbye to a key piece of their championship lineup.
"If he hasn't changed (his mind) now, I don't think he's ever going to change it," Keane said. "It's been an absolute honor to play with him. It's certainly up there with one of the best partnerships I've had. He's made the decision that he's going to retire, which is a shame. But at the end of the day, that's up to him. You have to respect someone's decision, and if anyone deserves to go out on a high, it's certainly Landon."
Donovan's future beyond Sunday afternoon is uncertain. Even if he doesn't leave with another trophy, his past is secure.
"I think his legacy is that he left the game as the greatest player in the history of U.S. soccer, and he's a damn good person," Arena said. "That's a pretty good legacy."
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