By Staff Writer
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – While it may not have been perfect, there were some big positives to take away from the LA Galaxy’s playoff opener against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. For one, the Galaxy came out 3-1 winners and will advance to Sunday’s Western Conference Semifinal against Colorado Rapids. But beyond that, the game marked the second time since his “un-retirement” that Landon Donovan was able to complete 90 minutes of soccer.
And he looked good out there.
Donovan also played the full 90 in the Galaxy’s final regular season match – a scoreless draw against FC Dallas on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who spent 21 months out of the game told the Los Angeles Times it was the first time since his return that he felt like “a normal soccer player again.”
Donovan walked away from the game almost completely following his retirement at the end of the 2014 season. While he continued to work as a TV commentator, he didn’t join pickup games or play the sort of indoor soccer games many retired pros find themselves drawn to.
Instead Donovan got married and became a dad. But ironically, it was these activities away from being on the pitch that drew him back to the Galaxy in what he saw as the team’s hour of need.
While doing TV commentary Donovan noticed the Galaxy making mistakes and was increasingly nagged by the feeling that perhaps he could help correct those mistakes.
“I saw a good, talented team that was playing a little naïve,” Donovan told the times. “And for as many old players and experienced players as we have, we’re giving up goals that shouldn’t have been given up, late in games, mental letdowns, things like that.”
The six-time MLS Cup winner, for whom the league’s MVP award is now named after, has also spoken of his desire to celebrate one final MLS Cup with his son Talon on the pitch with him. Talon is also the reason he wears No. 26 now instead of the No. 10 shirt he wore throughout his Galaxy career.
“That’s the day Talon was born,” said Donovan to the Galaxy’s official website. “That resonated, and then I looked back at numbers that I had worn, the first number that I wore at Bayer Leverkusen when I was 17 was 26.”
Donovan had a brief spell with Bundesliga side Leverkusen early in his career before homesickness compelled him to return to the more familiar confines of MLS.
He turned to the States, going on loan with the San Jose Earthquakes, who he helped guide to MLS Cup success in 2001 and in 2003. He moved onto the Galaxy in 2005 and spent nine years at the Los Angeles club, apart from brief return to Germany when he played on loan for Jurgen Klinsmann’s Bayern Munich side; and two more successful loans to Premier League side Everton, where he scored two goals in 17 appearances over two seasons.
While Landon’s return to the game came as something of a shock to the soccer world, this is not the first time he’s taken time off and resumed. Donovan likely sabotaged his shot at a place in Klinsmann’s squad for the 2014 World Cup by taking an extended offseason sabbatical that saw him miss a number of important qualifying matches for the tournament.
Donovan got his revenge – of a kind – by leading the Galaxy to MLS Cup that year. While most felt that at 32, he was too young to retire, Galaxy and U.S. soccer fans grudgingly accepted his decision. Donovan after all, has generally done things his way.
Despite the criticisms that have dogged him throughout his career that he should’ve tried harder to make it in Europe, he instead stayed in his native Southern California, building a legacy in America’s domestic league, rather than fighting for minutes in the Premier League or Bundesliga.
It’s a legacy that might not be quite complete yet. The Galaxy, and Donovan, looked more convincing than expected in the win over RSL and will be favorites in Sunday’s clash with Colorado. Although the sum has not always been as great as the parts this season, the Galaxy has one of the most talented squads in MLS and in Bruce Arena, a coach that knows how to get his team firing when it counts.
The addition of Donovan might just provide the Galaxy with the little something extra it needs to push on for a sixth MLS Cup. Perhaps it’s possible that on December 10, Donovan will be able to accomplish one of his few remaining soccer goals – to celebrate an MLS Cup on the pitch with his son Talon.