For all of the criticism lobbed at Landon Donovan over the years, the persistent contention about his alleged dearth of ambition always attached most easily and hung most awkwardly. It never quite fit him properly given the Herculean task he assumed to carry Major League Soccer forward when he returned for good in 2005, nor did it explain the pragmatic and unique way he approached his career and his future.
Donovan marshaled those governing principles once more this summer as he pondered his next move. He likely understood this moment - back in form at the age of 31 and free to pursue any destination he desired with his contract set to conclude at the end of the year - represented his last and best chance to move on a permanent basis and perhaps silence those doubters once and for all.
As a matter of due diligence and leverage accrual, he fielded curiosity from interested parties in Europe and Mexico and wondered whether he should try his luck elsewhere. In the end, his desire to continue his work with LA Galaxy and remain in southern California prompted him to sign a multiyear contract extension to stay in MLS instead.
"I contemplated it during the summer, particularly when we had real interest from teams," Donovan said during a conference call after announcing his decision on Wednesday afternoon. "I wanted to make sure this was a decision that was thoroughly thought through. Like most people with a decision of this magnitude, you try to write down a list of pros and cons. In this case, the pros of staying here heavily outweighed the pros of going somewhere else. That decision, for me, became very easy, very quickly."
Video: Donovan enjoying soccer more than ever
In Donovan's estimation, there were simply too many reasons to stay. He appreciated the familiarity of his surroundings - a club that backed him even when he went on an extended sojourn during the winter, a location that placed him in close proximity to family and friends - and his status within them. He lauded the Galaxy's desire to retain Omar Gonzalez in light of considerable competition from overseas and secure several of his fellow MLS Cup-winning teammates to new contracts. He recalled from his previous European experiences that he might not find the fulfillment he currently possessed at another club.
Most importantly, he grasped the importance of his performances in the coming months. Donovan needs to play regularly at a decent standard in order to maintain his recently recovered spot with the U.S. national team. He will receive every second he requires with the Galaxy in a league where several of his potential World Cup teammates will also prepare for the Brazilian journey likely ahead.
"The national team piece also came into play," Donovan said. "I want to make sure that I'm playing and playing at a high level. If and when the World Cup comes around, I want to make sure I have the best opportunity to be a part of the World Cup team. It makes sense from that standpoint as well."
Too many of those factors added up in Donovan's mind to chart a different course at this point. The logic of staying made far more sense to him than risking everything he currently possessed in a new situation. The looming benefits - a new and presumably more lucrative pact, his impending ascent to the top of MLS' all-time goal-scoring charts and, if all works out according to plan, a record sixth MLS Cup triumph sooner rather than later - outweighed any curiosity for something novel as he winds down his career over the next few years.
"I'm very happy with the way everything happened here," Donovan said. "There were some enticing opportunities, intriguing, I guess, but at the end of the day, none was more intriguing than continuing to be here and be a part of this team."
Donovan's continued rejection of the wanderlust pervasive throughout sports places him in a category few people comprehend or embrace. It is not a rejection of ambition, per se. Rather, it is a keen appreciation of the challenges he craves and the circumstances he requires to pursue them.
The thoughtful approach will undoubtedly embolden the lingering skeptics and infuriate the folks frustrated with his purported willingness to settle for MLS stardom. At this stage, those criticisms matter little. Donovan surveyed his options and trusted himself to make the right decision. And the final verdict shows his convictions - even when placed under duress - remain firmly in line with the priorities he set long ago.