By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. – After a trying couple of months, goalkeeper Josh Saunders appears set to return to the Los Angeles Galaxy starting lineup.
After taking a personal leave from the club in April and joining the league's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program in May, Saunders was cleared to return to action on June 7. Since returning, not only has Saunders been a fixture at Galaxy training sessions, but he has also made two appearances in reserve league play.
Although he is officially cleared to return to action for Sunday’s game against the Portland Timbers, the Galaxy goalkeeper is taking a cautious “wait and see” approach.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” Saunders told reporters after training on Friday. “You take every day like you know that you’re playing. The training sessions have been going well, but it’s up to the coaches.”
Since Saunders has been cleared to return, the Galaxy have shown well in the reserve league, notching victories against the Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. In both matches, Saunders went the full 90 minutes, providing the stable goalkeeping that became his hallmark during the club’s 2011 MLS Cup championship run.
While Saunders believed that the club’s victories were a coincidence, head coach Bruce Arena offered a different theory.
“I don’t think its coincidence,” said Arena. “Strong goalkeeping helps you win games. Whether it keeps you in the game or results in keeping you from going behind. Good goalkeeping is important.”
The Galaxy head coach was even more adamant when asked if Saunders return provided a psychological lift to the struggling club.
“It’s not psychological, it’s real,” said Arena. “Goalkeepers are valuable to teams and our team has not been tested a whole lot or put under a whole lot of pressure during the year, but we’re still required to make timely saves and important saves and we haven’t gotten that on a consistent basis.”
But does Saunders feel that he is ready for the challenge if he’s called upon to start on Sunday?
“Absolutely, I’m ready.”
DONOVAN LOOKING TO STEP UP
Galaxy captain Landon Donovan knows that his teammates need him, so after a stint with the U.S. national team that included a hat trick against Scotland, Donovan is ready to step up to help turn the struggling club’s season around.
Donovan has not been immune from the club’s struggles, as he has just two goals and two assists in 10 appearances this season. Upon returning from international duty, Donovan admits that it’s time for him to step up if the Galaxy are to return to the form of a year ago.
“I need to be a better leader,” said Donovan. “These guys depend on me, and I need to do a better job of that. I think if I do that, then these guys will follow.”
INJURED CENTERBACKS ON COMEBACK TRAIL
Two players who are not quite ready to return yet are centerbacks Leonardo and Omar Gonzalez. Both have been training with the club this week, but while Arena admitted that Leonardo is “not ready, unfortunately,” he offered more on Gonzalez.
On the shelf since undergoing knee surgery in January, after tearing his ACL during a training session with German side FC Nurnberg, Gonzalez has returned to the field this week. But even though Gonzalez’s return to the training field is a major step forward, Arena admitted that Gonzalez's return to action will take time.
“It’s day to day. We’ll see how he’s doing.” said Arena. “He’s not completely 100 percent, but he’s back on the field.”