An American icon will make his return on Sunday. Landon Donovan, perhaps the finest player in his country's history and a legend in Major League Soccer, has announced he will come out of retirement to help his beloved LA Galaxy in its time of need.
“I spoke with and they jokingly asked if I was ready to make a return to the field to help fill the void left by injuries and departures,” said Donovan, still only 34, about his decision to return to the game after an absence of 21 months. “It struck me that perhaps this is something I should consider.”
The Galaxy are definitely team in need of help. Jelle Van Damme, Steven Gerrard and Gyasi Zardes all went down with injuries recently, with Zardes out for the rest of the season. The transfer of midfield hard-man Nigel de Jong to Galatasaray also left a hole. “I care deeply about the Galaxy organization, and I believe I can help in a small way in its quest for a sixth MLS championship,” said Donovan, whose name now graces the league’s annual player-of-the-year award.
Donovan is the USA’s most accomplished player, having won six MLS titles. He stands alone as the league’s top scorer in both regular season and playoff games. He’s the national team’s all-time leading scorer and he has the mot assists in Stars and Stripes’ history. But even for a legend like Donovan, time away from the game takes its toll. He’s been quick to remind fans of that fact. “I haven’t played a meaningful soccer game in almost two years.”
Even so, Galaxy boss Bruce Arena has faith that the three-time World Cup veteran can contribute. The man who coached Donovan in the national team for six of his best years knows precisely what the aging playmaker can do. “I don’t think I need to tell anyone what Landon has accomplished in our sport,” Arena said. “He’s truly been a great player. Now, Landon wants to take on another challenge and I believe he has all the qualities to be a player who can help the LA Galaxy in 2016.”
Arena gamble The Galaxy have six regular-season games remaining and the playoffs after that, with Donovan’s new contract running out at the end of the season. Arena admits the move is something of a gamble, but one he is willing to take considering the calibre of the player involved and the status of Donovan at the club where he spent almost ten seasons and won four titles.
“Landon had a desire to play again,” said Arena, who first began discussing a comeback with Donovan last weekend and expects his new player to kit up on Sunday after only a few days training. “So in this case, if you’re going to gamble a little bit, this is a pretty good guy to gamble with.”
Donovan has always been a player to do things his own way. Citing homesickness, he returned from unhappy teenage days in Germany to play in MLS, then a league with a lot of growing to do. He took a sabbatical from the game a few years ago, citing depression, that led many to question his commitment to the game and his teams. No-one is asking those questions now.
There’s always the danger of tainting a legacy with an ill-advised comeback. Questions remain about what form Donovan might be in after nearly two years of playing football only for fun and splitting his working hours between punditry and advertising pitchman. Even so, it’s a risk he’s willing to take and one LA Galaxy fans are grateful for.