Donovan Pines, formerly a star defender with the River Hill and Maryland men’s soccer programs and now a standout with D.C. United, made his U.S. Men’s National Team debut during the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
Pines, 23, played in two matches during the Gold Cup, both in group play (a 1-0 win against Haiti and a 6-1 win against Martinique). The U.S. eventually defeated Mexico, 1-0, in the Gold Cup finals Aug. 1. It marked the seventh Gold Cup the U.S. has won, trailing only Mexico (11) since the inaugural tournament in 1963.
The 6-foot-4, 194-pound Pines was part of Maryland’s national championship season in 2018. He signed a homegrown player contract with D.C. United in 2019 and has played in 32 matches, starting 29, in three seasons with United since then.
Pines joined Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 26 to discuss his experience at the Gold Cup, carrying on the legacy of Maryland soccer and more.
This has been edited for content and clarity.
PressBox: Can you put into words what that meant to you to wear the national team uniform and to be part of such a significant competition?
Donovan Pines: Honestly, it’s just a dream come true, making my professional career for D.C. United. It’s always been my dream to play with the national team. I think I [told] myself, “I really want to be a pro,” when I saw a game with D.C. United and Andy Najar made a shot. A couple years later when I was 12, I said, “Oh man, I really want to make the national team.” Another 12, 11 years later, I’m making my debut with the national team. It’s just been an incredible, incredible [time]. The time I put in, it’s been a pleasure. I’m so thankful for the opportunity that I got to play with the U.S. Men’s National Team. For everybody who was on that team, it’s just incredible to be a part of that group of people, staff and coaches. It was incredible just to be part of that.
PB: It doesn’t hurt that you guys ended up winning the Gold Cup, right?
DP: I felt like we were the underdogs in that tournament, but the fact is that it was really good to focus on just soccer and not worry about the outside realm of what people were saying. You just focus on your training and what the coaches tell you. Our play was going to dictate itself and it showed. Everybody bought into [head coach] Gregg Berhalter’s system. Everybody was incredibly respectful of each other. Nobody was high above anyone else. All the players, even the tenured players, they were all very nice and equal and always took care of the younger guys. It was just an incredible group of players and leaders. It was honestly bound to be something really special. I really believe that this team was really, really a special team.
PB: Did you know this was coming? The way that you’ve progressed in your young career, did you know that an opportunity was coming to not just be on the team but to get on the pitch in a match? Did it even catch you by surprise when you got that opportunity?
DP: Honestly, I had no idea. I just kind of take one day at a time and make sure I focus on the moment and seizing the moment as much as I can and doing the best that I can in that moment. That’s either in training or preparing, watching film and playing games — always showcasing my best effort. I feel like I made a lot of sacrifices over the years that put me into a really good position as a Maryland player and then as a professional for D.C. United and now a national team pool player. I couldn’t believe that I was getting all this recognition and publicity. I was honestly just living the dream every day.
It was just incredible how much support I got from my family over the years. Really took so much time to put in and finally I lived my dream of playing for the U.S. Men’s National Team. I still can’t believe it. My grandparents, my cousins, my uncles, they’re ecstatic. I remember they sent me a video of when I subbed in. The most true moment of that video is when they panned the camera to my grandpa and he started crying. He said, ‘That’s my boy, that’s my boy!’ That was kind of a tear-jerker for me because I’ve never seen him cry. I was really emotional after that game. A lot of incredible things happened the past three years as a professional. I think honestly playing for my country and representing my country and just doing the best that I can to showcase my ability, I’m so thankful to be able to just do that.
PB: You mentioned these were dreams that you had. I’d like to hope that the next on the list that you can speak to fruition is that you’ve dreamed of winning an MLS Cup and World Cup, right? You’ve done pretty well speaking things to fruition.
DP: It’s really incredible how many winning teams I’ve been on. My next goal is to win the MLS Cup and do really well with my team and [head coach Hernán Losada] in D.C. and hopefully make the playoffs and win a title. One step at a time. I believe this group is very special as well. I feel like everybody loves each other and really fights for each other on and off the field. I feel that this team can go a long way in that respect. I’m really excited for the next chapter as I keep getting healthy and making sure that I’m focused and dialed in and trusting the process. I’m really excited for what’s to come. I’m just going to keep my head down and keep living my dream and keep putting forth my best effort. Making the national team again, that’s also a goal of mine and hopefully making the World Cup. But one step at a time.
PB: Even with all of the success that you’ve had, you’re not really the big man on campus in your family when you come back to Maryland. Is that a little bit odd for you when you come back?
DP: My dad, he’s pretty competitive, so he’s like, “Yeah, I’m more famous than you, Donovan.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s good, Dad, I’m happy for you.” I don’t really care. I’m like an introvert, so when people spot me — I’m 6-4, 6-5 — it’s kind of funny because I can’t hide. My dad, he’s 6 foot, 6-1, so he can hide a little bit but I can’t really. I stick out like a sore thumb. In that case, we always butt heads. We kind of go back and forth about that stuff. Recently, I was just getting food down the street and somebody recognized me. That was kind of random because I got a haircut and I was gone for like a month and a half. I was really confused. They were like, “Oh, are you Donovan Pines?” I was like, “Uh … yes.” … It’s kind of funny when I get spotted either off campus or on campus.
PB: You were part of that 2018 national championship team at Maryland. How significant is it to you to carry the torch for the Maryland men’s soccer program and succeeding at a high level?
DP: It’s just a dream come true. You honestly live every day like you’re living your dream. [Players like Rodney Wallace, Graham Zusi and Zack Steffen] have been living their dreams for years. They just put in effort after effort after effort in any game. It shows you how much they care. They want to respect who they are. It reflects well on Maryland because it shows the pedigree of players who come out of the university and [how] dynamic they are as players and people. You can say that each one of those players is great people. They speak very well. They’re very academically oriented. They’re incredible players and people. It’s incredible that you can see how good a school Maryland is preparing athletes and soccer players for the next step as professionals and even further than that. It’s kind of cool how I see that in the grand scheme of things. Also having Eryk [Williamson] at the Gold Cup, I was really happy that we got to win a championship together because he didn’t experience that with [the Terps] when he left and he went to Portland. I was really happy and I was really, really excited for him and for the both of us that we got to celebrate a championship together.
To hear more from Pines, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Xavi Dussaq/D.C. United