LOS ANGELES - The presentation of this year's Walt Chyzowych Award at the NSCAA Convention came with a twist.
In addition to the usual lifetime achievement honor - given this year to longtime club and U.S. national team program coach Jay Hoffman - there was a second prize in Chyzowych's name. This one was given for accomplishments as a player.
Given the timing of the launch and the location of its debut, it was only fitting that Landon Donovan was the inaugural recipient.
Donovan spoke about length about having researched Chyzowych's enormous impact on American soccer during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when the game was almost invisible on the mainstream sports landscape.
"It makes me appreciative of what I've been allowed to do," Donovan said. "We needed that platform, and Walt helped give [us] that platform."
This new prize will hopefully help teach a new generation of American soccer fans about Chyzowych's legacy.
(That legacy, by the way, was built largely in Philadelphia. You can learn more about Chyzowych's life and career here.)
Bruce Arena, who coached Donovan with the Los Angeles Galaxy and the U.S. national team, had the honor of presenting Donovan with the Chyzowych award.
(And not just because of the close bond between the two men. Arena won the lifetime achievement honor in 2003.)
"We always talk about our young generation that doesn't realize all the hard work that went into bringing the sport to where it is today," Arena told me after the ceremony "That's who Walt was, and to have our great player Landon Donovan recognize Walt's contributions to the game is fantastic."
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, one of the many dignitaries in attendance, also highlighted the importance of connecting eras in the American game.
"It says a lot about Walt and it also says a lot about Landon that he would take the time," Gulati told me. "He's always been a curious, intellectual, studious guy. So for him to take the initiative to learn about Walt, then appreciate it, and talk about it today with a lot of other people who wouldn't have known those lines [of connection], I think that's very special. It's a great tribute to everything Walter did and everything Landon is."
Donovan joked during his speech that "it kind of feels like an obituary." Yet as he acknowledged a few moments later, he hasn't fully retired - or retired again, to be specific - from playing.
On what he'll have to do with the Chyzowych award if he returns to playing:
I might have to put a few awards into trust.
On whether he has made a decision yet about playing in 2017, or if he's close to making one:
I would say close, but still up in the air at this point.
On the pros and cons of coming back:
Yeah… I can get into that more after I make a decision.
On whether he has given himself a deadline:
Well, if I was going to play in MLS this season, the preseason starts in a few weeks, so it would have to happen pretty quickly.
On what impact his wife and soon-to-be-one-year-old son will have on the decision:
As any married man knows, at best you have 49 percent say in any decision. Obviously, your family plays into these things a lot, and that's certainly a factor.
On whether he has kept himself in good shape during the offseason:
Clearly not [he said pointing at himself]. No, I'm just kidding. I'm always active, I always work out and try to stay fit, as a general statement. But that versus "soccer fit" is very different, as you know.
On how he thinks he played after coming out of retirement in 2016:
I think given the circumstances, probably a little better than I would have expected. But not at the level that I had been accustomed to. Obviously, there's a lot of factors in that. But I enjoyed it, and it was good to spend some time back in that environment. It was invigorating in that way, and enjoyable, and kind of without the pressure of before. So I enjoyed it.
On whether there are specific teams he wants to play for, and whether that might impact his decision to return to the field this year:
There's a lot of things that go into every possible scenario, right? If a team in China called and said, "We want you to play," then some of the factors change, including financial and how to take care of your family, security, etc. Every interest that has been shown has different challenges and different factors involved.
On learning about Walt Chyzowych's impact on American soccer:
As you get older and you gain perspective, you realize that this wasn't all just happenstance. It's not like we were the first generation of soccer players that ever touched a ball in this country. There were people who built it with almost no recognition, no financial gain, no notoriety, and they just did it because they wanted to make the game better.
When you're playing and you're young, you don't realize that. When you stop and you kind of retrospectively look at it, you realize that's important, and that they are a big part of why you were able to do what you did.
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