You joined D.C. United in 2019 as a Homegrown signing. What was the initial feeling of getting to represent your local community?
“It was a dream come true. I never thought I would get to this point. Joining the Academy when I was 14, going to the University of Maryland then realizing after the College Cup that I could sign a professional contract with my hometown team... It was just a dream come true and such a thankful feeling. I just can't believe I got the opportunity to play for the team I grew up watching and being a ball boy for. From watching Andy Najar score goals to now getting chance to play with him... It's just still so surreal.”
It's been three seasons as a D.C. United player. You're not a rookie anymore. How do you feel now compared to when you first signed with the team?
“I feel like I'm growing into myself and becoming more mature. I'm growing into the game and know my role on the team. I'm trying to keep on improving myself on and off the field as well as becoming a leader and being a force in the back. My ultimate goal is to help the team get to the playoffs and win an MLS Cup. I want to keep learning from the best coaches and people on the team. And hopefully, I will progress into a very good player in the future.”
You grew up watching players like Andy Najar, and now you're playing alongside him in addition to Steven Birnbaum, who has been here for a long time. What have you taken from them over the years? What lessons have they taught you?
“Coming into my rookie season, I knew I was going to learn a lot. I learned from Wayne [Rooney] coming in and being a top striker and player and defending him every training session. Steve [Birnbaum]and Fred [Brillant] took me under their wing and helped me learn the little things that I had to pick up to be a good all-around center back as fast as possible because this game is quick, and in MLS you’ve got to learn fast or you're going to be left behind. I was thankful to have them and Andy [Najar] helping me as a young player."
"When I first knew Andy [Najar] was going to be on the team, I was like, 'Najar, is that actually Andy?' then I turned the corner out of the locker room, and I see him doing a physical, and I shake his hand; I was like shaking because that's him. That's the guy. Then I realized I was going to play with him, and it was just unbelievable. Every time I step on the field, it's remarkable to see his confidence, vigor, and tenacity when he plays.”
We looked back that far, right. And now, looking back just on this past season, do you have a personal highlight of yours that you really look back fondly on? It can be for yourself, as a team, or both.
“I think there was this one play against the Red Bulls. We played them, I think the last time we played them, it was the third or fourth to last game of the season. And I made a really nice slide tackle, and it was going to be a goal from Cásseres. I think I made a really good slide tackle. And Andy came over to me, and he gave me a body bump or something, and it was the first time I heard him say, ‘Good job, Don.’ It was really cool. I was just like I made a really good play because I saw it again, and he was wide open. If I didn't make that tackle, it was going to be a goal. But he saw that it was going to happen. That's when I knew he respects me as a player and as a person, and he respects my game. So that was one time where I felt like we were as one team, and we all trusted each other and were falling into place.”
What's been your offseason focus? Any areas of your game that you're working on?
“There are a lot of things I felt like I needed to work on in the offseason. There were a few hiccups at the beginning of last season that you can't control. So, at this time, I just focus on getting my body stronger, in all aspects, to prevent what happened last season. But things happen. I'm trying to work on the things that will elevate my game and make me an all-around better player and force in the back to help my team succeed as much as possible. We want to get to the playoffs because ultimately, we have a great team with good motivators, players, and coaching staff. We have the pieces. We just have to put those pieces together. And I know we'll be a successful team come next season.”
With the holidays coming up and your family being local, what are your plans? Are there any Pines Family traditions that you are looking forward to?
“We always get a Douglas fir tree. We get that specific tree for Christmas, and we always set it up together, putting all the ornaments on and decorating it to make it ours, so I think that's always a good time because we're all together. And then we always have a family vacation. We're supposed to go to an exotic location this year, but because of COVID, we kind of put that away, and now we're going to a beach house we rented.”
Do you have a favorite Christmas gift that you've received?
“Oh my gosh. Okay, in the past, the best gift I got was probably an Xbox, the Xbox One. It was two or three years ago; I was ecstatic about that. That was insane.”
Who got you that?
“That was my mom. That was definitely sick."
Worst Christmas gift?
"The worst gift. Oh, yeah, man. My dad got me jumper cables. I think it was a year or two after I got my car. I was just looking at him, and he was just like, ‘Merry Christmas, Don,’ and I said, ‘Thanks, dad.’ It was a joke, but there was something else under the tree. It was just to make everyone laugh.”
But, have you used those jump cables?
“Yes. I have another story with that. I was leaving for practice, and I was in my building, in my apartment, and a guy just ran over and said, ‘Hey, man,’ and I was like, ‘Are you okay?; And he said, ‘I just need someone to jump my car.’ And I used the jumper cables, and it was pretty cool, so I had to text my dad like, ‘I used the cables.’ He's like, ‘See, have a good day, Donovan."
All right, last one. Go-to Christmas song?
“All I Want for Christmas Is You. That's the one. But there are some good, new ones out, though. There's one song with Bryson Tiller, I think it's the first song on his new Christmas album. Just give it a listen. It's a pretty cool hip-hop kind of style, but it's pretty good.”