Landon Donovan is a legend of US soccer, a man whose goals and presence singlehandedly drove the sport to new heights.
He played top-flight football in Germany and England, two of the world’s most prestigious divisions. On the international stage, Donovan convinced the world that US soccer players were not a sideshow nor second rate. He was the superstar of a generation that paved the way for the likes of recent goal hero Christian Pulisic to head off across the Atlantic without the burden of preconception.
Nowadays, Donovan is a key figure in San Diego, as the manager, co-founder, and vice-president of soccer operations for USL Championship side San Diego Loyal SC. They are a team currently writing their own history, fighting a proud fight against the ills of the modern game, according to MLS Soccer, whilst also hunting success on the field.
However, Donovan’s reach is still stretching across the Atlantic, even with his commitments over here. Few may know this, but the player with 157 appearances for the USMNT, who scored in the World Cup finals and who won the MLS Cup six times with three teams, is also involved with a little-known English third division side called Lincoln City.
In the US, Lincoln is better known as the former president, or maybe the car manufacturer, but in England, it is a city of 70,000 people and home to a football team known as Lincoln City FC. They’ve never played in the Premier League, their players don’t appear on international rosters, but they do have a proud tradition stretching back to 1884. They briefly made headlines in 2016/17 when they knocked a Premier League side, Burnley, out of the FA Cup. That set up a quarterfinal date with a name everyone knows, Arsenal, a game they lost 5-0 with their heads held high.
Lincoln City plays at Sincil Bank, a modest stadium with 10,000 seats, most full for a game. They compete in what is known as League One, but don’t be fooled; it is the third level of the English game. They’re rated amongst the favourites to makes the playoffs in their division by Bwin, but even if they were to do so, they’d still be a long way from facing up against Everton, Landon Donovan’s former side.
But how has a US legend ended up connected to a provincial soccer team like Lincoln City, nicknamed The Imps? They have recently accepted investment from Harvey Jabara, a US businessman with a small financial interest in the San Diego Padres. His son Jensen is an aspiring soccer player, and he approached Donovan at a game for tips on his career. The two got on well, and the soccer star became a family friend of Jabara. When Harvey decided he’d like to invest in English soccer, he tasked Donovan with finding the right club.
That club was Lincoln City. The link may have come about through Everton – not only are they Donovan’s former club, but Lincoln City chairman Clive Nates is also a fan. However it happened, Donovan helped broker a deal worth around $1m to The Imps and was rewarded with the role of Strategic Advisor as a result.
Will we see Donovan leaving these shores for England anytime soon? It is unlikely. Former Manchester United midfielder Michael Appleton manages the Imps, and despite their lowly status in the worldwide game, they are highly respected in England. In all probability, Donovan will facilitate a relationship between the Imps and San Diego Loyal, as well as helping develop their reach in the US market.
That is the story of how a US soccer legend and worldwide icon became involved with a relatively unknown and yet ambitious English Football League club.