Head Coach of the USL’s San Diego Loyal, Landon Donovan on The Role of a Coach
The story of a famous player turned coach is always interesting but Landon Donovan brings a special and unique quality to coaching — a depth of commitment to his players’ success — that is sincerely ingrained. And, he has the experience to make a difference.
The Role of a Coach Series
One of the best U.S. soccer players in history, Landon Donovan now embraces the role of head coach for his team, the San Diego Loyal. The team begins to play in March 2020 at Torero Stadium on the University of San Diego campus.
The San Diego Loyal SC Home Opener vs. Las Vegas Lights FC is on March 7 and should sell out.
Before you can appreciate Donovan’s views on being a coach, it is important to look back at his extraordinary 19-year professional career which crossed the continents. The former star of the U.S. Men’s National Team, Donovan played in three FIFA World Cups and holds the all-time lead for the U.S. men in goals, scoring a record 57 times. In the MLS, Donovan was a fan favorite at the LA Galaxy and is now second only to Chris Wondolowski for most regular-season goals, finding the back of the net an amazing 145 times. Donovan is also the MLS’ all-time leader in assists, helping his teammates score 136 times.
Whether it is his earning FIFA’s Best Young Player of the World Cup in 2002, the CONCACAF Gold Cup MVP in 2013 or being U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year a record four times, Donovan has succeeded over and over again, where others have failed — and, yet he remains humble.
Always a pleasure to speak with, here is the first of a three-part series with Landon Donovan, the head coach of USL Championship’s San Diego Loyal.
SoccerToday Interview with Landon Donovan on The Role of a Coach
Diane Scavuzzo: What does it mean to be a coach? What do you believe is the role of a coach?
Landon Donovan: That’s a good question. I think it depends on the coach.
For me, I want to positively impact lives and inspire people through this game.
That is my goal, my mission, my role.
For other coaches, it might be to put on the best training sessions, to win a championship. But for me, my role is literally to be a role model and help these guys, these young men get to a better place in their life and their career.
Read Part 2: WHAT LANDON DONOVAN VALUES IN A SOCCER PLAYER
Diane Scavuzzo: Which coach do you think you have learned the most from?
Landon Donovan: Well, I think if you’re a listener and a learner, then you learn a lot from everybody, right? Even the bad ones, or the ones you didn’t like as much, you can also learn from, right?
The person who’s had the biggest influence on me is Bruce Arena.
I was with him for so long, watching him day in and day out for a number of years has certainly influenced me a lot. Bruce understands that people are different. Ultimately, he knows how to get a group of young men pointed in the same direction and working towards the same goal.
Diane Scavuzzo: What kind of environment do you want to create for your players?
Landon Donovan: There are two pieces to creating an environment, right? On the field and off the field.
We have the ability, thanks to our owner, to put our players in what’s widely considered a top-five performance environment in the USA. Our players train at Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in San Diego. They have access to quite literally the same tools that our Olympic athletes have to prepare for the Olympics this summer in Japan. That’s on the field environment.
Off the field, my belief is that you treat people respectfully.
As a coach, I believe we treat these young men with compassion and then challenge them to get better all the time.
It’s very easy, especially when you get to a certain point in your career, to be content with your role or where you are in your life.
I will not do that with these guys, because I think they can do better, they can be better, they can make more money, they can play at a higher level, and I want to help them do that.
I’m going to be very challenging, but also very respectful and understanding of what they’re going through and the real challenges they have, because I’ve lived it — so I know it.
I think you can do all of that at the same time.
Diane Scavuzzo: In your opinion, what is the role of the USL in American soccer?
Landon Donovan: Why the USL has thrived, particularly in the last five years, is the league now is being populated with players who a few years ago absolutely would’ve been MLS players. Now, Major League Soccer is paying significant amounts of money to bring in players of higher value, and the guys who used to be in the middle of a youth MLS Academy roster are now playing in USL.
So, if you’re a young kid making the decision where to play ten years ago, you would say, “Well, the salaries aren’t very good in the USL, the level isn’t great — so it’s better for me to stay in college. Maybe the soccer is not quite as high a level as in the USL, but it’s better for me to stay in college and get my degree.”
Now, players can make better money in this league and the competition they’re facing at 18, 19, 20-years-old is a very, very high level.
You’ve just seen this paradigm shift really in the last five years and it’s giving players now a real option instead of defaulting to staying in college and getting a four-year degree.
Diane Scavuzzo: Fabulous insights. How has the recruiting been for San Diego Loyal?
Landon Donovan: There’s a lot of avenues to go through to find players. Clearly, current USL and MLS players, and then you can expand that to around the globe — and you rely on scouts, people you trust, and looking at video to make some of those decisions. Then you have college players and local players, who we looked at through our tryouts. These are players, who for whatever reason, haven’t been with a professional team yet, but who are needing the opportunity to prove that they can play at this level.
From our open tryouts, We are bringing in — I think — three players into preseason. These are kids who will now have an opportunity to be professionals. They know there’s no guarantee, but now they’re getting an opportunity.
I think that speaks to the fact that we still are missing players in our scouting system here in the US.
It’s getting better, but we’re still missing some players, and we’ve got to give them every opportunity to make it if we want to keep progressing.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you feel about being in San Diego and kicking off San Diego Loyal?
Landon Donovan: I love San Diego. I moved here four years ago with my family.
This is literally a dream come true for me.
The challenge in San Diego is that there’s a lot of competition, right? And, I don’t mean competition with other sports teams. I mean you can go to the beach, you can go to the mountains, you can drive to the border, you can hang out in Chula Vista, you can go downtown, you can go to Carlsbad and Del Mar.
There are a lot of great things to do in San Diego on a Saturday, or a Saturday night.
Read Part 2: WHAT LANDON DONOVAN VALUES IN A SOCCER PLAYER
Interview with Landon Donovan Part 3 coming soon.
Photo Credit: SD Loyal