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Beverly Hills, Calif. • In a room filled with some of the most-decorated Olympic athletes in U.S. history, Landon Donovan asked if he could sit down to chat. There hasn't been much sleep afforded to the former L.A. Galaxy and U.S. men's national team star lately. Donovan and wife Hannah recently welcomed son Talon six weeks ago.
A few feet away from Donovan stood 1984 gold medalist Carl Lewis, surrounded by a throng of reporters.
A few feet from him was former diving star Greg Louganis, also a gold medalist at the 1984 Games.
Closer to the massive Beverly Hills Ballroom was 2002 speedskating gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, gymnast Nadia Comaneci, golfer Ricky Fowler, marathoner Meb Keflezighi, among others. Seated at a table close to the action was Donovan, one of many Los Angeles locals named to a athlete advisory commission to help further the LA2024 bid for the Summer Games eight years from now.
Donovan said it would be an incredible sports story if L.A. is awarded the Summer Games in 2024 exactly 40 years after the 1984 Games in Southern California.
"I'm a huge sports fan, massive Olympics fan," Donovan said in an interview with the Tribune. "I find myself like most people probably watching curling, badminton and judo."
Now 34, the all-time leading scorer both in Major League Soccer and the USMNT, said as a kid his initial dream was to be an Olympian first. When he was kicking a ball against the wall and working on his touch growing up, Donovan was telling himself, "It's the Olympic final."
"For me, when I played in the Olympics, that was the ultimate," Donovan said. "That was the pinnacle of my sporting life until I played in a World Cup."
Donovan was 18 when he helped the U.S. squad win bronze at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. He also understands the tall task facing the U.S. U-23s to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games this August. The Americans face Colombia in a home-and-away series for a final spot in Brazil after finishing third in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying last fall.
The first leg of the series will be played in Barranquilla, Colombia, on Friday, March 25. The return leg is scheduled for Tuesday, March 29, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
"The difficult part with an Olympic team is you don't get a lot of time together," Donovan said. "There could be a few guys who don't get released playing for their club teams. It's very tricky. We're at a point now in our development, though, where guys should understand how to gel quickly. They've had qualifying together."
A deep breath then followed the best male player American soccer has ever produced.
"I hope they get to Rio," Donovan continued. "Aside from just being successful in qualifying, the Olympic experience is unlike anything you'll ever go through in your life. I hope for those guys, they get that opportunity."
Donovan also recognizes that a failure to qualify for a second-straight Olympic Games would be another shortcoming for the U.S. men's national team program.
"At this point in our history, any tournament we don't qualify for is a failure," he said. "We should be, in this region, we should either be the best or very close to the best team in the region, so it's important for us. It's important for us to continue qualifying for these events. We have to."
» Donovan on the MLS struggles in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds
"My opinion is, it's not about winning the Champions League, it's about competing in a real way every year. Because from year-to-year, Tigres or [Club] America has an unbelievable team and they beat one of our teams? That's fine. Right now, I think when we go into Champions League, I don't think anyone really says, 'Yes, we really can win it.' That's where we need to get better.
"For me, I'm not the expert, but I have lived it and I've also played in this region for a long time, I've played against Mexican teams, I understand how these teams work. The calendar is obviously tricky. If we could play during our season and [the Liga MX] season, it would close the gap a little, but the real issue is when you look at Mexican league teams and their rosters, player one through 25 are really, really good and they're all making $600,000, $800,000, $1 million a year. They are … really talented one through 25. [MLS] have one through six, one through eight, one through 10 players that are very good and can compete on any day, but if you really want to close that gap, I think the thing is, we're spending extra, believe it or not. So far, [some MLS] teams are spending close to what Mexican teams are, we're just spending it on a few players and they're spending it on 15, and that's where the difference is."
» Donovan on what U.S. Soccer needs to accomplish during the upcoming World Cup cycle
"We have the players that are capable. I get upset when people say, 'We just don't have the quality or we don't have the right players.' We don't have Brazil's quality, we don't have Spain's quality, we don't have Germany's quality, but we're good enough to do well in a World Cup. Now it's just doing it. Again, this is the same conversation. Long-term, it's not about winning a World Cup, it's about really competing every time we go into a tournament. Brazil doesn't win every time, but they go in every time saying, 'We've got a chance.' Germany does the same. That's what we've got to get to, but that's a different conversation that goes back to development and doing things the right way. I think we'll get there."
» Donovan on RSL staples Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando
"I'm not sure you can accurately describe how important they've been. What's most impressive to me is any athlete in any sport are guys that consistently do it over a long period of time, guys that consistently adapt to the way the game changes. The game when Nick and Kyle came into MLS compared to what it is today is massively different. But they found a way to adapt and be successful the whole time. I give RSL, as an organization, a lot of credit for continuing to make them happy and do things to get them to stay and I give those two credit for staying with RSL. I think that organization will miss those two a lot when they go."
» Donovan on how long he'll wait to get back into soccer on a full-time basis
"Maybe one day. Right now, I'm just focused on being a dad."