Sugar Ray Leonard continues to show why he was known as a gracious champion.

On the night he received a lifetime achievement award from the Harold & Carole Pump Foundation for his help in fighting cancer, Leonard honored his old rival Thomas Hearns.

Leonard won the first fight against Hearns in 1981 with a TKO in the 14th round to unify the welterweight title. The 1989 rematch was scored as a draw, but most observers thought Hearns deserved the decision.

Leonard himself acknowledged that The Hitman had earned the victory as he accepted his award at the foundation's 14th annual celebrity dinner in Century City, California.

"We were rivals -- major rivals," Leonard said.

Hearns responded, "We were? We still are."

Leonard then proceeded to talk about the second fight.

"Well, to me, Tommy Hearns won that fight," Leonard said. "So give him a round of applause."

See how this all played out on stage:

Jim Brown was an NFL icon as running back with the Browns and a movie star who had roles in hits such as The Dirty Dozen and Any Given Sunday. That's why it was fitting that the presentation of his lifetime achievement award from the Harold & Carole Pump Foundation included fellow Hall of Famers, including Marcus Allen, and an Oscar winner, Jamie Foxx.

During his acceptance speech at the foundation's 14th annual celebrity dinner in Century City, California, Brown stressed the importance of education.

"I honestly don't prefer awards because it sort of kind symbolizes the end of something," Brown said. "I know in my life I'm just starting on a plan that will maybe eradicate some of the violence we have in this country with our young people, and create an environment that our young people can have quality education."

Check out Brown's complete message:

In one of Robin William's most recognizable films, Patch Adams, he has the remarkable ability to brighten the day of children in the most tragic of situations. Champion Paralympic athlete Rudy Garcia-Tolson knows firsthand that this was far from just an act.

Born with popliteal pterygium syndrome, a condition in which webbing of the skin limits mobility, Rudy Garcia-Tolson was just 5 when both of his legs were amputated above the knee so he could use prosthetics more effectively. This did little to stop Rudy's competitive drive. At 6, Rudy began swimming, and a decade later he won gold at the 2004 Paralympic Games, breaking a world record in the 200-meter individual medley.

In 1996, Rudy began participating in triathlons as the swimmer on relay teams. The following year he met Williams at a Malibu triathlon, and it was the start of a surreal relationship.

"It was almost mythical," Garcia-Tolson said. "I was the kid that had the big movie star as a friend."

Garcia-Tolson's father informed him of Williams' passing Monday.

"I will always carry Robin with me," Garcia-Tolson said. "We will really miss him this year."

Williams was huge cycling fan. "He would even go to the tour de France," Garcia-Tolson said.

It was this passion along with the help of professional triathlete Scott Tinley that led to the formation of Team Braveheart in the annual triathlon for the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego. For 11 years, Garcia-Tolson did the swimming, Williams did the cycling and Tinley finished it with the run.

Williams' participation and genuine passion for CAF led to "much more exposure for people with the same circumstances as me," Rudy said. "He genuinely understood the daily problems of an amputee. ... He would even bring other celebrities to the events like Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell. It did a lot to bring attention to the foundation."

Their friendship grew beyond the triathlon team. He competed in online gaming with both Williams and his children, all of whom were close in age to Rudy. Garcia-Tolson even found himself at the film star's home in northern California.

Now 25, Garcia-Tolson said Williams was a subtle yet powerful influence, providing that inspiration so frequently seen on screen. Rudy remembers the concern Robin had for his well-being throughout his life as well as the constant effort put forth by Williams to make him smile. Despite Robin's ever-present fame, Rudy never saw any difference between the Robin Williams on the big screen and the Robin Williams he knew.

"He just went full speed with it," he said. "I think he knew from a young age that making people laugh was his gift, so him in reality was the same as on camera."

From the day they met, Robin had an immediate interest in the challenges that athletes such as Garcia-Tolson faced.

"He was really interested in my legs, how they worked; he had an engineering mind," he said. "He genuinely understood the challenges we faced more than most people."

Garcia-Tolson, who earned an ESPY nomination in 2010 for Best Male Athlete with a Disability, is recovering from a shoulder injury after completing another Ironman triathlon competition with Tinley. (Rudy was the first double amputee to ever complete an Ironman in 2009.)

After some rest, Rudy will train for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He will be competing in both swimming (100- and 200-meter individual medleys) as well as track and field (long jump).

Adding to this packed athletic schedule, Rudy has also just announced his bid to make the U.S. Paralympic triathlon team. He lives in Chula Vista, California, where he also works out at the Olympic training center.

Even with all of his athletic accomplishments, Garcia-Tolson said it was still his special connection with Williams that made him "the luckiest kid in the world."

Sugar Ray Leonard received a lifetime achievement award from the Harold & Carole Pump Foundation for his efforts in raising money to knock out cancer.

As Leonard was honored at the foundation's 14th annual celebrity dinner in Century City, California, he was able to share the moment with some of the sport's biggest names. His old rival Thomas (The Hitman) Hearns joined him on the microphone to talk some playful trash.

Check out the festivities, which also included former women's champ Laila Ali and ring announcer Michael Buffer:

Kobe Bryant will be 36 by the end of this month, and injuries to his knee and Achilles limited him to six games last season. So it would be understandable if expectations were low heading into this season.

But new Lakers coach Byron Scott isn't buying into that line of thinking. In fact, Scott is projecting Bryant to produce numbers on par with his career averages in three major categories.

Kobe, even "with one leg, can average 20-something points a game," Scott told ThePostGame. "I think that's very realistic. I think he'll do something like that. Five rebounds and five assists a night as well. He's going to surprise a lot of people."

Bryant's career averages are 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists.

Last season was a washout as he averaged a career-low 13.8 points in those six games. But his 4.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists weren't that far off the pace, so perhaps Scott, a teammate during Bryant's rookie season in 1996-97, isn't really reaching.

"When people start to write him off, that makes him even more driven," Scott said while attending the 14th Annual Harold & Carole Pump Foundation Celebrity Dinner in Century City, California.

Stephen Curry watched Paul George suffer a compound fracture to his right leg. As an active member of the USA Basketball Team, Curry was in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on the night of Aug 1. As was the case with basketball fans across the world, Curry held his breath.

"It's tough. Any time you see an injury like that it shakes and shocks most people, especially guys that were in the arena," Curry says.

George and Curry are cut from the same cloth. Both were under-recruited as high schoolers and ended up at mid-majors–George at Fresno State and Curry at Davidson. Both silenced their naysayers by striving at the collegiate level. Both became top ten picks, but both still faced critics, in the NBA, whether it be for their size or athleticism. Both have become NBA superstars.

Curry knows it could've been him who jammed his foot into the base of the basket instead of George. He knows this can still happen at any time. But it is not going to slow him down.

"There's a reason we're all playing. There's a risk when you play USA basketball and every time you step on the floor, really," Curry says. "To have the opportunity to represent your country and play against the best in the world while you still can is something I don't take for granted. It'd be really special to win the gold medal now, with all the things that have happened so far."

Along with the injuries, Team USA lost 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2012 Olympic gold medalists Kevin Durant and Kevin Love to withdrawals. The entire infrastructure of international basketball has been under fire thanks to George, Durant and Love. Critics feel the competition extends fatigue and risk of injury while taking away from contract negotiations and endorsements. (Durant's reported $325 million Under Armour deal could have been a factor in his decision to withdraw.)

Curry, who played on the gold medal World Championship team in 2010, is among the strongest proponents of preserving international basketball. For the point guard, international competition is a basketball gift, rather than a hassle. Curry sees the same attitude in George, who communicated with many of the American players from his hospital bed.

"His attitude of 'I'm coming back stronger than ever' -- that's all he really needed to say," Curry said at a clinic he conducted on behalf on one of his sponsors, Degree deodorant. "We were all there and know how crazy the scene was, but for him to just be positive about it is all the motivation we need."

George is expected to make a full recovery, although, he will likely miss the entire 2014-15 season.

As for the competition, Curry will head to Spain at the end of the month for the World Cup (formerly known as the World Championship) with a different mindset than he had four years ago. In 2010, Curry arrived in Turkey fresh off his rookie season. He played 85 minutes in eight of Team USA's nine games, the fourth-lowest total on the roster. Curry was scrawnier and had not developed an elite NBA passing game. His raw talent made for a respectable spark off the bench, but not much more.

In 2014, Curry has a chance to be the starting point guard for the red, white and blue. He averaged 24.0 points and 8.5 assists last season while draining 261 three-pointers in 78 games. Curry's performance earned him a start in the 2014 All-Star Game -- his 1.05 million votes were second in the Western Conference to Kobe Bryant -- and a place on the All-NBA Second Team.

Likewise, USA Basketball is in a different place. In 2010, the United States was coming off the Redeem Team's Olympic gold in 2008, but the U.S. had not won a World Championship gold medal since 1994. Now, the U.S. has won three straight gold medals in World Championship and Olympic events, and the pressure is on.

"I'm at a different place in my career. The stage has been set for us as a national team to defend gold medals rather than chase them," Curry says. "Obviously with the injury to Paul George and Kevin Durant dropping out, it's a different mood, but I know guys are still committed and obviously the mission's to win a gold medal. We'll do that any way we can."

The road to gold is sure to include a series of bumps and possibly a wall to climb. Nations such as Brazil, Argentina, Australia and Croatia are rich in former, current and future NBA talent.

Of course, Team USA's most recent rival, Spain, will loom over the American radar. The silver medalists at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics are loaded with NBA talent. Ricky Rubio, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon headline the deepest of international foes. "La Roja" also serves as the host of the 16-day tournament.

"Spain's the team with the most NBA talent and they've been together for so long. Obviously this year they have home court advantage–home country advantage," Curry says. "They played us tough, but we've been able to come out on top in a lot of matchups recently. We need to continue that trend. We know it's going to be tough to beat them in their own country, but we feel like we have what it takes to make it happen."

In 2010, Curry cut down the nets in Istanbul. He was a skinny kid surrounded by NBA All-Stars. He was a contributive presence to a roster that could have survived without him, to put it bluntly.

In 2014, Curry will be at the forefront of Team USA, as it trots into the FIBA World Cup with some scabs hanging off it. He is a constant on a national team in flux. For Curry, there is no looking back. The man who says he is a better offensive player than LeBron James wants that leadership role.

And he is not taking it for granted.

Just like the rest of Facebook's interns, Harrison Barnes shadowed full-time employees, sat in on meetings and gained a better understanding of how the world's most popular social network operates.

Unlike the rest of Facebook's summer interns, the 6-foot-8 Warriors guard also attended USA Basketball's prestigious training camp in Las Vegas.

Thus is life for Barnes, a rising star in the NBA and one of the league's most fan-friendly athletes. In between training with USA Basketball, flying to Brazil for the World Cup and working on his game, Barnes squeezed in a weeklong crash course at Facebook.


Sam Laird describes Barnes' experience in a new feature for Mashable. Laird notes that in addition to providing Barnes with a better feel for the platform which he has used to engage with hundreds of thousands of fans, the star also dished out insight to Facebook's staff about how pros use the social network. More and more these days athletes are using Facebook to speak directly to their fans. Derek Jeter and Landon Donovan announced their retirements on Facebook.

"Being in the NBA and able to connect with fans through social experiences is great," Barnes told Lair. "But then to come here and connect with the people who make these tools and learn how to use them more effectively and also talk about how they can be enhanced is even better."

Barnes, of course, took to Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) to post several photos from his internship, which was officially an "externship." Barnes was not getting paid and he was not taking the spot of another intern, so he was technically considered an "extern."


Barnes even got a look at the the Oculus Rift headset, the prized product of the company Oculus, which Facebook recently purchased for $2 billion.

The 22-year-old Barnes may have a future at Facebook, but for the time being he's doing pretty well for himself with the Warriors. The seventh overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft, Barnes was named to the NBA All-Rookie first team in 2013. He's averaged at least 25 minutes and nine points in each of his first two seasons in the league and he figures to be a crucial piece for the Warriors as they look to establish themselves as a force in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference.

Between maintaining a full class schedule and earning a spot on a major-conference college football roster, walk-ons have their work cut out for them before the first whistle of practice. Tom Hruby, a junior attempting to join the Northwestern Wildcats this season, makes that whole process look like nothing.

For starters, Hruby is 32. He has a wife and three kids in Crown Point, Ind., a good 68 miles from Northwestern's campus in Evanston, Ill.

He's also an active Navy SEAL, and the subject of a terrific feature in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Hruby became a SEAL in 2006. He began in California, where he trained as a breacher -- an expert in explosives and forced entry -- and served in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries in the Middle East.

Last year, Hruby took the SAT, and enrolled at NU shortly after. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, Hruby is attempting to secure a roster spot as a defensive end. He'll be living in a dorm, attending 6 a.m. conditioning sessions, and continuing work as a SEAL instructor at Great Lakes Naval Station. The Wildcats have done promotional training campaigns with the Navy SEALs the past few seasons, so why not take the next step and add one to the depth chart?

It's been an interesting month for college football walk-ons. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen surprised walk-on long snapper Connor Udelhoven with a scholarship during team "bucket hat trivia" last week, and Iowa walk-on Boone Myers was just announced as the team's second-string left guard.

In 1999, U.S. Soccer took a risk that would make or break the next decade and a half of the national program. As part of a $1.5 million plan to compete at that year's under-17 world championship, U.S. Soccer recruited its 20 best players to train together at the IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Landon Donovan was a short California kid at the camp -- he maxed out at 5-8 as an adult.

This experiment was what Donovan and the U.S. needed.

Donovan was living with his brother, sister and single mother, Donna Kenney-Cash, a special education teacher, while playing for a youth club in Rancho Cuacamonga, Calif., called Cal Heat. He was not about to break through in the soccer world on his own.

American soccer itself was in limbo. MLS had 12 teams then and was about to start its sixth season. The U.S.'s three straight World Cup appearances at the time were three more than the program's total from 1954-1986, but the nation finished dead last in 1998. Executives, coaches and players were still trying to figure out the formula to create elite talent.

In Bradenton, Donovan was surrounded by the necessary talent to put him over the top as he played alongside future senior teammates DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Kyle Beckerman and Bobby Convey. It was a turning point for U.S. Soccer and Donovan, who announced his retirement in a Facebook post Thursday.

At that U-17 championship, the U.S. finished fourth -- ahead of Germany, Spain, Uruguay and Mexico. Donovan scored three goals and was named the best player of the tournament over such future stars as Ghana's Michael Essien, Brazil's Adriano and Spain's Mikel Arteta. Donovan and Beasley received two of the tournament's Adidas Golden Balls. At the youth level, the United States and Landon Donovan were on the world's radar.

Shortly after the tournament, Donovan was signed to a four-year deal worth $400,000 with Germany's Bayer Leverkusen. Donovan's Cali swag was curbed in the Bundesliga. He could not find his stride with Bayer Leverkusen and spent much of 1999-2001 bouncing around the club's second-, third- and fourth-division clubs. Despite living the supposed dream in Europe, Donovan maneuvered to be loaned to the MLS. He joined the San Jose Earthquakes for the 2001 MLS season.

Donovan rekindled that 1999 flame just before heading to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea/Japan. He netted two goals as the U.S. made a Cinderella run to the quarterfinals. He again won an award in an international tournament, earning the Best Young Player Award. Donovan left the World Cup as a household name in the United States -- rare for a soccer player -- and around the world.

For the next seven years, Donovan became as big of a celebrity as an American soccer star playing the United States could be. In MLS, he won an MLS Cup, an MLS MVP, an MLS Golden Boot and made three MLS Best XI squads. At the national level, he served as the face of the team for the 2006 World Cup and won the Honda Player of the Year six times from 2002-2009.

Off the pitch, Donovan moved home to Southern California when he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005. He married a budding actress, Bianca Kajlich, and brushed shoulders with Galaxy import David Beckham. Donovan was the catalyst U.S. soccer needed. He had skills on the field and bought into improving the image of the sport off the field. Donovan's remaining in MLS was a plus for the domestic plight.

Perhaps most importantly, Donovan remained an athlete the average American could relate to. He was not a big guy, he did not walk around with an ego and he played the game with love and passion. Donovan was a California kid who grew up kicking around a soccer ball with his single mother. While he was known as "Landycakes" in Germany for his failed spells with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich (Donovan played six games in on loan in 2009 for then-coach Jurgen Klinsmann), Donovan remained the most recognized name in the United States. His presence in MLS encouraged rising soccer players to view the league as a destination. With Donovan's growth, MLS grew.

By 2010, Donovan was in now-or-never mode. His glow from the 2002 World Cup had faded and after failing to reach the knockout stage in 2006, U.S. Soccer was stagnant. At 28 and supplied with a supporting cast deemed superior than either of the previous two World Cup squads, Donovan had to deliver to cement a meaningful legacy in American soccer.

Donovan marked his territory. He scored three times in four games, including a firecracker in a 2-2 tie versus Slovenia and historic stoppage time goal against Algeria that sent the U.S. through the group. After all the mockery of his failed career in Europe and talk of a cop-out career in MLS, Donovan came through. With it, he inspired American fans and youthful American soccer players. He steered the nation in the right direction.

Donovan retained his stardom in 2011, but went on a soccer sabbatical in 2012. He won a CONCACAF Gold Cup Golden Ball Award in 2013, but was dropped from the World Cup roster in 2014 when the final cut was made from 30 to 23 players. Klinsmann's decision to release the veteran was questioned by many, and perhaps the arguments will never end.

Despite the World Cup cut, Donovan has closure on his career. This was evident during Wednesday's night MLS All-Star Game, as all of Donovan's worlds seemed to collide.

It was fitting the match featured the MLS All-Stars, the best players from "The League Donovan Built," against Bayern Munich, one of his former clubs from the league that treats him like a laughingstock. The Klinsmann-Bayern Munich-USMNT connections only made this a bigger deal for Donovan.

Donovan entered in the 48th minute and made his presence known. He netted the game-winning goal in the 70th minute. He left the turf in the 71st minute and the MLS All-Stars held on for a 2-1 victory. Donovan earned the game's MVP Award -- his second such title–the first coming in his first MLS All-Star Game in 2001.

Meanwhile, questionably aggressive challenges by Will Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso overshadowed the result of the exhibition. Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola refused to shake MLS All-Stars manager Caleb Porter's hand and stormed into the locker room. Guardiola's sportsmanship was condemned by American broadcasters, including former USMNT players Alexi Lalas, Taylor Twellman and Kasey Keller after the match. The tackles may have been a bit heavy for an exhibition, but they were by no means vicious challenges.

After the match, ESPN had the MVP, Donovan, who also served as a network analyst during this year's World Cup, for on-the-field and desk interviews. It was poetic. European soccer, specifically German soccer, looked pathetic. Bayern Munich's whining was classless and belittled the MLS All-Stars' win. Donovan, the game's hero, and MLS' hero of the past decade and more, could only smile on his pedestal.

"I'm proud to be a part of this league," Donovan said after the match. "For many years, those of us that were in this league were sort of looked down upon for staying here and playing here.

"This was a big moment for our league. And we understand the game doesn't count for anything. We know Bayern are in their preseason and their best players didn't play. But they were still competitive and those guys wanted to win just like we did."

Wednesday night was representative of the league, the sport and the culture Donovan built in the United States. When the MLS All-Stars took the field, the demeanor was different than past years. With Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry, Michael Bradley, Tim Cahill, DeAndre Yedlin, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Maurice Edu, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Nick Rimando, along with Donovan (not to mention Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Kyle Beckerman all sat out with injury), the MLS All-Stars have a different swagger. The MLS All-Stars have been playing European clubs every year since 2005. Never has the MLS had such a star-studded roster as it did Wednesday night. The confidence was evident.

The MLS All-Stars did not let Bayern Munich, featuring a plethora of World Cup champions from last month's tournament, push them around. They played to win whether Bayern Munich cared or not. Yes, play did get a bit chippy as the MLS All-Stars worked to prove themselves.

"We certainly didn't mean anything negative,'' Porter said. "Our players have nothing but the utmost respect for Bayern."

Donovan was right in the thick of things, captaining the squad during his 23 minutes on the pitch. For him, there was a bit of an extra emphasis on his performance and the result. He had a chip on his shoulder.

As for the messy aftermath of the match, there was something inspirational on the MLS sideline. In the United States, Americans could watch the game with confidence in the MLS players' action. The challenges in question were not clean, but far from malicious. In a nation obsessed with contact sports such as football, basketball and hockey, the physical play could be commended. It did not feel like the MLS All-Stars had done anything all that wrong. Although the game was an exhibition, this did not signal a lack of intensity to fans.

Last week, Paul George suffered a gruesome injury in an exhibition for USA Basketball. Exhibitions are necessary tune-ups for players and entertainment for fans, and injuries and physicality are part of the game. Guardiola's reaction was embarrassing and selfish. Despite all Guardiola's accomplishments -- he won two Champions League Finals at Barcelona -- his actions Wednesday were classless.

From an American perspective, this only encourages a devotion to American style of soccer -- which Donovan popularized -- with a physical nature and vertical movement. The U.S. is not going to play tiki-taka, a Guardiola staple, focusing on long, complex possessions.

Such comparisons can be made to other sports. In basketball, Spain, U.S.'s greatest challenger in recent years, plays spread out with constant movement. At the Olympics, the U.S. has asked LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to fastbreak, go one-on-one and use power moves. This is more "American."

In baseball, Japanese hitters focus on short strokes for contact and Japanese pitchers build a series of off-speed pitches for their arsenal. American hitters tend to feature a greater emphasis on power and American pitchers care more about velocity.

Landon Donovan brought the "American way" to soccer. Spending most of his career in the midfield, Donovan was the general of the USMNT, sending long passes and using his speed to push the ball. He got physical when necessary. Donvan's Algeria goal was a prime example of the American way. He powered the ball down the field, sending Jozy Altidore. Donovan, Altidore and Dempsey crashed the net at full speed. The sequence was not pretty, but it got the job done.

American sports fans want to see no nonsense from their nation's players. Donovan failed in Europe, was bashed by the media after a poor 2006 World Cup and Beckham treated him poorly in Los Angeles. Donovan always got back out on the field and pushed through. He was never known to take dives and was constantly referred to as a good teammate.

The American way, or the Donovan way, rubbed off on his teammates. When the USMNT went to Brazil this summer, even without Donovan, it had a distinct culture. While other nations riffed with the media, the U.S. kept it low-key. Despite all the talk of the U.S. having no chance to get out of the "Group of Death," the Americans prevailed. They did not flop when the going got tough, and they gained the respect of the world. More importantly, the team gained the respect of American fans.

In his post-game interviews Wednesday night, Donovan used words like "game," "field" and "soccer." He speaks in American dialect and furthers that American identity. Donovan is the USMNT's all-time leading goal scorer with 57 tallies and his 156 caps are second behind Cobi Jones.

ESPNFC's Alex Labidou tweeted Thursday asking if Donovan's likeness could be used for a new MLS logo. That would be fitting. No player represents the American domestic league more than the guy who legitimized it.


In Brazil, players wear No. 10 as a tribute to Pele. In Argentina, they wear it for Diego Maradona. In the United States, Americans will wear No. 10 for Landon Donovan.

Perhaps Donovan planned to announce his retirement in the moments after the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday. The fitting glory of the MVP Award, win over Bayern Munich and maturity of the MLS team changed his plans. He needed to take it all in. The announcement could wait.

The night could also give Donovan closure on his career. No, he did not win a World Cup. No, he did not succeed in Europe. No, he did leave an international legacy.

But on Wednesday, Donovan could see what he accomplished. He built the foundation for American soccer. The National Team can compete with American style and American culture. MLS is a legitimate league, where legitimate players can play, and like Donovan, they do not need to wait for the twilight of their careers. American fans can get excited for a sport with an American identity. American children, no matter what background they hail from or what size they max out at, can become soccer stars.

Apparently, a lot of them are named 'Landon' too.


This is far from the end for Donovan. At the end of his retirement statement, Donovan says, "As we enter a transformative time for the sport, I will do everything I can to help the continued growth of soccer in the United States. I look forward to making a difference, pursuing my passions and meeting all of you along the way in this next phase of my life."

Do not think for a second Donovan is gone from the soccer spotlight. His desires to play the sport have clearly decreased, as seen by his sabbatical. To some, 32 may seem like a young retirement. To Donovan, it is enough.

Landon Donovan is a general just as much as he is a soldier. He may be tired of being on the ground, but he is excited to call the shots. Donovan built MLS and U.S. Soccer. His work as a player is done. His work as an executive, coach or entrepreneur is only beginning.

Wherever life takes him, he will do things one way: The American way. Of course, a synonym for that is The Donovan way.

David Villa stood far from the hills of Spain. Last Thursday, when Villa scoped Macombs Dam Park in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City, other than the familiarity of a soccer field, the view was different. He did not see the Mediterranean Sea, bullfighters or paella. Instead, he saw the concrete jungles of New York, the backdrop of Yankee Stadium and a group of American children.

After participating in a clinic with the youngsters from South Bronx United, Villa hosted a Q&A session. Half of the children asked questions in English with the other half in Spanish.

For Villa, who answered English questions with a translator, the Spanish-speaking presence could only be soothing. Villa, 32, is the all-time leading goal scorer in Spain National Team history with 59 tallies in 97 caps. He has played in three World Cups and started at center forward in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands. After 15 professional seasons in Spain, the Spanish legend found himself in front of a new group of youthful fans an ocean away. But it did not seem so foreign.

"He's very well-aware of the Hispanic community in New York," says Claudio Reyna, New York City FC Sporting Director, an American of Argentine and Portuguese descent. "He's here to play soccer, but obviously there's the addition of him being really recognized and a top player."

Villa signed with NYCFC on June 1 to become the club's first player. Just eight days earlier, he started at center forward in the UEFA Champions League Final for Atlético Madrid. Villa's 185 goals are 11th all-time in La Liga, the first decision in Spain.

Villa walked away from one of the world's top teams in one of the world's top leagues to come to a club with no history whatsoever. He moved to a city far from the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and the other Spanish cities Villa starred in, and he did it with his talent still on the table.

Yet, there Villa was standing in front of a stadium known for béisbol, not fútbol.

"You can't really second-guess it," Villa says. "The attraction to the project from the beginning was being one of the first players."

It is no surprise Villa calls NYCFC a "project." Along with Reyna, head coach Jason Kreis, fellow European hero Frank Lampard and a marketing message of being New York City's next big thing, NYCFC is a remarkable work in progress. Villa and Lampard are more than just two players coming to play soccer. They are coming to build the sport in the most populated city of the world's wealthiest nation. NYCFC will debut in the 2015 MLS season.

"I want to make NYCFC start off with a winning legacy," Villa says. "That's something important. I will do whatever I can to make it happen."

Villa has an obvious barrier to American media and fans: Language. After spending his entire career in his home country of Spain, Villa lacks communication skills in the United States. For the time being, he needs a translator.

Between NYCFC's two current megastars, Lampard, an Englishman, will be the louder voice by default. Two weeks ago, when announced as NYCFC's fourth player, Lampard stared down the media, both English and American. He declared his desire to turn NYCFC into a winner while showing respect for his old English club, Chelsea. It was the kind of opening press conference only legends formulate.

But Villa's intensity can convey a message despite his lack of English.

"David's fiery too," Reyna says. "He was the most competitive guy on the Spanish National Team. He'll start a fight over a game of cards."

Reyna says management will keep the Spanish-speaking reporters close to Villa. On Thursday, a variety of reporters made their way to the park just to watch the Spanish star knock around a ball with kids.

"He's going to learn English, but for right now, he'll be doing more of the Spanish press. I think that'll naturally happen," Reyna says.


Reyna commends Villa's professionalism and commitment to NYCFC. During the Lampard press conference, Reyna and Kreis explained they look for both on and off-the-field characteristics in their signees. Lampard and Villa both passed their tests. Both come with the maturity to focus bringing the team wins and bringing the club public recognition. After all, Villa was the usual center forward for one of the greatest soccer dynasties of all-time: Spain's 2008-2012 team.

On Thursday, Villa was asked to engage with children in Macombs Dam Park. He was not hesitant to spread the NYCFC name to the youngsters.

"I was a child. I know how important it is to give back and teach them from the beginning the right way to play," Villa says.

Although Villa is not from Latin America, as many of the Spanish speakers in New York City, and specifically the Bronx, are, he understands the common language makes him a role model.

"He's beloved in Spain because he's a kid who worked his way up," Reyna says. "I think you'll the human side of him. He'll be able to connect to the Hispanic community. He's one of them. He's humble. He wants to meet them. That's what's great. He's here to not only play, but also part of the reason why he wanted to come over was to help build the club."

There is no doubt Villa could have found a home in Spain or any other major European league. While he may not be the striker he once was, the footballer can still strike gold more than most other forwards..

But Villa wanted something different. After all, he had accomplished nearly everything possible in Spain. The U.S. brought new challenges. He is in a new setting with new players, new supporters and new on-field expectations.

Most importantly, he is the first player for a new super sports franchise.

“The vision of City Football Group was enticing, but to be the first player in that vision was even more so,” Villa said. City Football Group, which owns Manchester City F.C. and a majority stake in Melbourne City F.C., owns 80 percent of NYCFC. Yankee Global Enterprises owns the other 20 percent.

Such a statement does not make Villa is arrogance. His emotions were recently seen as he sobbed to the sidelines in his final game as a Spanish national in the 2014 World Cup. Villa announced he would retire from international play after the tournament.

Villa was asked if he has consulted anyone on what it means to be a star athlete in New York. He shuddered.

"I don't consider myself a star," he says. "I consider myself part of the team. I'm ready for whatever comes my way."

With Villa and Lampard in a New York State of Mind and other international stars moving to MLS -- Kaká, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane to name a few -- the league is in a good place. Soccer is rising in popularity in the U.S. thanks to television access, American success at the World Cup and video games.

Villa calls Lampard a "legend" who he is excited to mesh styles with. The duo will likely be joined by a third designated player by kickoff 2015. One name rumored to ponder a move to NYCFC is Xavi, Villa's former teammate with Spain and FC Barcelona. Another is former Spain teammate Fernando Torres, who also played with Lampard at Chelsea.

Villa actually spoke to Torres last Wednesday, but not about soccer.

"We're family friends, so it was more of a family matter," Villa says. "We're great friends though."

The influx of international names into the MLS mix only encourages each of the team's to try to one-up each other. This friendly competition is boosting the level of play and brand name of MLS. Each team has to keep pace to compete.

As a sporting director, Reyna is excited by this. He believes the players are into it too.

"The level of players that they are, they want to beat the other teams with those players. There's a competitive drive," he says.

Villa considers himself a fan just as much as he considers himself a player. He claims to follow leagues outside of Spain with an eye long watching MLS.

Now, Villa has entered that new world outside of La Liga. His potential is high -- to be a trailblazer for Spanish players and non-English-speaking stars in MLS -- but he also has the potential to be a bust, a past-his-prime international who cannot get acclimated to the foreign flavor of MLS. Villa has mind focused on goals, physically and figuratively right now.

"I want to leave a winning legacy and one of hard work and determination that will make people remember the name David Villa," he says.

With the 2015 MLS season still seven months away from opening, Villa will go on loan to Melbourne City. On Wednesday (today), NYCFC announced Lampard will go on loan to Manchester City. Both will be back in January to join NYCFC.

While the stars focus on staying fit at their temporary clubs, Reyna, Kreis and NYCFC management will remain focused on building a roster. The club still only has five players and has a long way to go before March.

With that said, the dreams are big. NYCFC has a city of $8 million at its fingertips and is starting play at the mecca of baseball venues. When introducing Lampard, Kreis said he wants NYCFC to not only be a competitor in the United States, but at the world level.

Reyna's mentality is similar. He grew up in nearby Livingston, N.J., and the concrete jungles inspire him.

"With our name and New York City -- it's the world's capital -- there's something special about this city," Reyna says. "This club if we're going to be recognizable, we have a way's go. I believe our dream is to one day be a team that competes at the international level. I think there's such an interest in New York City. There are big dreams, but what it comes down to is what we do on the field."

What NYCFC does on and off the field will start with its center forward. David Villa is one of the greatest players of all-time and now, the Big Apple is his playground.

"I'm ready to play," he says. "I'm ready for the hard work. I'm dedicated."

He needs to be all of those things and more if he wants to build a legacy in American soccer. If he succeeds, NYCFC will become an internationally-recognized name.

And David Villa's name will be one to remember.

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