- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) — Still stung by the decision to drop him from this year’s U.S. World Cup roster, Landon Donovan maintains he should have been on the field for the Americans in Brazil this year.

Making no effort to hide his anger with U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Donovan admitted he nearly turned down the offer of a farewell match against Ecuador on Friday night.

U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, who pushed for Donovan to play, sat at his side during a half-hour pregame news conference on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” set, about 20 miles from Rentschler Field.

“Three, four months ago, if someone asked if this day would happen, I would have said you’re out of your mind and you’re crazy,” Donovan said. “I give all the credit to Sunil for sticking with me through some hard conversations and understanding what was important and making it happen.

“I believe this is a day I deserve. I believe this is a day my family deserves for all the sacrifices they’ve made.”

The 32-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy forward, the American career leader in international goals and assists, is retiring at the end of the Major League Soccer season. He spoke at length about his career, his bouts with depression and his hope to contribute to the sport in the future, perhaps as a youth coach.

Donovan played in all 12 U.S. games at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups, scoring an American-record five goals. His stoppage-time winner against Algeria four years ago gave the U.S. first place in its group for the first time in 80 years and created one of American soccer’s iconic moments.

But he was cut in May in a controversial decision by Klinsmann, the former German star forward who took over as U.S. coach in 2011. Donovan said he was reluctant to return to the national team when Gulati first pitched the idea. He wouldn’t discuss his relationship with Klinsmann.

“The thought of being in this environment again didn’t seem all that appealing at the time,” Donovan said. “But at the end of the day I looked at the big picture and realized what a special day this could be. It’s almost like, if you care to believe this stuff, in many ways it’s meant to be. I think it’s no coincidence it’s 10-10 today.”

Without Donovan, the U.S. advanced from a difficult first-round group by defeating Ghana, drawing Portugal and losing to Germany. The Americans were knocked out with a 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium.

“Although I didn’t agree with the decision and I still know I should have been there, it was also good for me to say, you know what, it’s not always going to go your way,” Donovan said. “And it took time for me to get to that place. I’m human. I had some very real emotions after. But after a while I said: Maybe this is a going to be a good thing. And I wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow had it not happened. I certainly grew a lot more by that happening than if I had gone to the World Cup and played there, and in that way you can learn a lot from it.

“I had the opportunity to feel what other players have felt in my career. A lot of times when I made a team I was so happy for me that I forgot about the guy who got cut, so for the first time it kind of put that in front of my face.”

Donovan has 57 goals and 58 assists for the U.S., both American records. He was set to make his 157th international appearance, second-most in U.S. history, and captain the Americans for the 19th time.

A day earlier, Klinsmann said he wished Donovan “could have done a bit more” and established a career with a European club rather than have spent most of his time in MLS.

“I think it’s easy for people to judge others in their career choices and their life choices,” Donovan said. “I’ve always tried to make decisions that were best for me and best for my family and best for my happiness. I realize that’s not always popular with people. I’m sure a lot of people wish my career had gone a different way.”

Donovan took a four-month sabbatical from soccer after the 2012 season, a decision that strained his relationship to Klinsmann. Donovan has been open about his struggles with depression.

“It’s human nature to have sad periods in life,” he said. “I would much rather feel than not feel things, and to go through some of the things we as human beings go through, it’s normal to feel that way.”

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