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Landon Donovan to retire from professional soccer

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 10:26 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
In not just a personal highlight, but one of the greatest moments in American soccer, Landon Donovan, foreground left, celebrates with teammate Edson Buddle after scoring an injury-time goal against Algeria, propelling the United States into the knockout round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In not just a personal highlight, but one of the greatest moments in American soccer, Landon Donovan, foreground left, celebrates with teammate Edson Buddle after scoring an injury-time goal against Algeria, propelling the United States into the knockout round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
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Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
Highlights of Landon Donovan's career
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann says Donovan was 'fantastic example'
  • Landon Donovan says he is sad, but excited for next phase in life
  • He scored 57 goals for the USA, including a memorable one in the 2010 World Cup
  • The 32-year-old says he'll still be connected to the game

(CNN) -- Landon Donovan, the greatest scorer in American men's soccer history and one of the players who helped raise the profile of the game in the United States, will retire after the MLS season.

The Los Angeles Galaxy star told reporters in Los Angeles on Thursday that he doesn't have the same passion for the game that he had when he began playing professionally as a teenager. He said he made his final decision to leave the game about two weeks ago.

"It's bittersweet for me," he said. "There is some sadness. I'm also equally excited for what's to come. As most of you know, I've been doing this for quite a long time."

Donovan said he wanted to tell the Galaxy his plans so the team could start the process of looking for a new marquee player.

The 5-foot-8 forward has been the highest profile American player for many years.

Donovan, 32, has netted more goals than any other player in U.S. men's national team history (57) and is the leading all-time scorer (138) for Major League Soccer.

The exceptionally fast Donovan scored one of the most famous goals in U.S. history, knocking home a stoppage-time shot in the 2010 World Cup to beat Algeria and get the United States out of group play.

Many expected Donovan to be named to the 2014 team and make an appearance in his fourth World Cup, but he was cut by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who praised the player Thursday.

"He consistently raised the bar for himself these last 15 years, and he set a fantastic example for so many other American players to follow," Klinsmann said. "As one of the best players in U.S. soccer history, Landon should be proud of everything he has accomplished."

His club coach said he leaves an unbelievable legacy.

"Landon Donovan is one of the most significant figures in the history of soccer in the United States," L.A. Galaxy coach and former U.S. coach Bruce Arena said Thursday. "His influence on MLS and soccer in this country will continue to be felt for many years to come.

U.S. goalie Tim Howard tweeted: "It's been an honor."

Former U.S. great Claudio Reyna said: "Congratulations @landondonovan It was great to see you evolve on and off the field over the last 15 years!"

Donovan has four goals and seven assists this year for the Galaxy, which has 15 matches left in the regular season. He also had the game-winning goal for the MLS all-stars in a 2-1 victory Wednesday night against Bayern Munich.

He also played professionally in England and Germany. He said he played most of his career in the States to be near family and to help build MLS into a league respected worldwide.

"Landon is to MLS what Michael Jordan was to the NBA, Wayne Gretzky was to the NHL and Tiger Woods was to the PGA Tour: a player whose sporting accomplishments and popularity transformed their respective leagues and set a new standard for how the game would be played," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.

Donovan said part of the reason he took a sabbatical last year, including time away during the U.S World Cup qualifying campaign, was to see how he would feel about life away from soccer. He already had contemplated retiring, he said, but came back from his trip abroad rejuvenated and anxious to play on.

Not everyone who helped him with the decision was pro-retirement, he said. At 32, he could still be a good player for a few more seasons. And he is walking away from the last two years of his contract, which pays him "a lot of money," he said.

He will be remembered most for his moments of brilliance for the Red, White and Blue. Donovan left an indelible mark on the U.S. national team and its history.

Forget all the goals, assists or the hat tricks against Scotland, Ecuador and Cuba (he actually hung four on Cuba).

There are reasons Donovan has earned a sort of cult fame among U.S. soccer's fan base, and fame among America's casual fans.

He's one of the primary reasons fans of archrival Mexico shudder when they hear the chant "dos a cero" (two to zero). The most glorious dos a cero for American fans came when Donovan buried the second goal in the 2002 World Cup round of 16. His first game for the United States was against Mexico in 2000, when he was just 18. He scored.

He was oh so fast and he could beat defenders one on one. If there was a penalty kick for the United States, he would bury it.

He had a knack for well-placed set pieces, taking most of the U.S. free kicks for many years.

"I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have played a role in the remarkable growth of MLS and U.S. Soccer during my playing career," he wrote Thursday. "And while my career as a player will soon be over, rest assured I will stay connected on many levels to the beautiful game."

Donovan indicated he wanted to work with youth soccer players, possibly at an academy run by the Galaxy.

CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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