Soccer star enjoys day in Redlands
By TIM GRENDA
REDLANDS - Landon Donovan, who first played soccer on Redlands fields and grew up to be an international star in the sport, returned home Saturday humble, shy and a little embarrassed to have a day named for him.
"It was nuts, but it was an honor," the softspoken 20-year-old said after Nov. 2 was declared "Landon Donovan Day" in Redlands.
The city and local soccer league officials honored their homegrown hero and hundreds turned out to see him in person. But the city of Ontario can actually lay claim to Donovan.
Donovan was born there and didn't move to Redlands until after sixth grade. Still, he considers Redlands home.
"The people in Ontario would never do this for me," Donovan said while autographing a stack of photographs. "It takes a special town like Redlands to do something like this."
Redlands Mayor Kasey Haws acted as emcee for the day's welcoming event, which was held on the same Moore Middle School fields where Donovan first played.
On Saturday night, Donovan played in a charity soccer match with local players at the University of Redlands. Proceeds will benefit the area's AYSO youth soccer league.
"He's always remembered his roots and we're proud of that," Haws said.
Donovan joined the U.S. national soccer team at 17, becoming the third-youngest player to reach that level. He scored a goal in his first match for the U.S. team, against Mexico in October 2000. At the World Cup this year, he started every match and scored two goals.
He has garnered international fame, playing for the prestigious German soccer club Bayer Leverkusen and the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer in the United States. Voted the top U.S. soccer player last month, he remains among the most recognizable players in world soccer.
Donovan attended Redlands High School and Redlands East Valley High before leaving after 11th grade to play soccer in Europe.
Saturday's festivities were held before an overflow crowd of eager young soccer players, their camera-toting parents and at least a few teenage girls who were trying to get Donovan's attention.
Donovan demonstrated his soccer skills for the crowd and even fielded questions from a select few, including 10-year-old Brooke McElwee, who whispered a marriage proposal in the player's ear.
"In eight years, give me a call and we'll see what we can work out," Donovan joked to the blushing girl.
Donovan said he is still getting used to being treated like a celebrity in his hometown. He returned to his mother's house last week for the first time in a long time and was surprised to find himself being recognized doing everyday chores.
"I went to Stater Bros. the other day and it was crazy," he said of being asked for autographs while shopping for groceries.
Reach Tim Grenda at (909) 890-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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