Carson, Calif. – When asked under what scenarios he planned to play Landon Donovan, Bruce Arena did not hesitate: “A 4-1 lead with less than ten minutes left.”
Arena, and the sell-out Galaxy crowd, both got their wish, when in the 82nd minute, with a three-goal lead against a hapless Orlando City side, the man they call “Legend” entered the match. H was not there to run the show, but only to try to keep up.
“Did you watch me play?” Donovan laughed with reporters in the post-game press conference when asked about his fitness. “I need to get fit. I am so far away. I mean, I came into the game when both teams were exhausted, and yet I was the slowest player on the field. I need to get to where I can compete.
“Bruce and the coaching staff need to know that when they put me in, it can mean something. Tonight worked out well, but I need to be able to contribute.”
Donovan entered the press conference breathing hard and sweating. He admitted that he left the field after the game and went straight onto the treadmill for half an hour in an effort to develop his fitness as quickly as possible.
Now, the biggest thing for Donovan is to continue to push his fitness. According to the Galaxy star, no matter how hard you previously worked, game pace is significantly different than anything you can do to prepare for it. It’s a different rhythm, a different speed, one that Donovan is not yet used to.
The number of fans in the seats at the Stub Hub Center on Sunday – 27,165, the largest crowd ever for a Galaxy home game that wasn’t an MLS Cup Final – gave the club one very good reason for bringing Donovan back onto the roster. Now, it becomes about how to utilize him, both on and off the field.
“Obviously in a perfect world I can help on the field, but you just saw a team without Robbie Keane for most of the game score four goals. There’s a lot of talent on this team,” said Donovan. “So there’s not a ton I need to do in that way. Maybe a play here or there, but I can help in, hopefully, a lot of different ways, and that’s a big part of the motivation and the reason.
“I think I had much more impact today helping out a few guys at halftime than I did helping out on the field” Donovan continued. “If that’s the way I contribute, then that’s great.”
Donovan was asked if the game felt different than he remembered, and he quickly agreed. With all of the extra nerves, hype and doubts of his debut out of the way, the 34-year-old forward is simply looking forward to getting back into the game with a team that can use his help.
“The league, I think, has gotten dramatically better since I’ve been gone,” Donovan said. “When I looked at Orlando’s lineup, I mean, they have really, really good players all over the field, and it’s just amazing to see how this league has changed. So there’s no room to be not fit, not sharp. I gotta be on it if I want to contribute.
“We were right on the fence until last night whether or not it even made sense to be on the bench,” Donovan added. “I think we all agreed that if we could just get the first few minutes out of the way, for a lot of different reasons, the PR part, the media part, me just getting my mental understanding of the game again and just kinda get that out of the way so that we can focus on what we want to focus. Thankfully it worked out tonight, and now it’s just time to get all that stuff out of the way and go try to win a championship.”