Prior to Thursday, Landon Donovan was anything but a professional soccer player. He was an analyst, one seemingly becoming more comfortable in a suit and tie after a career in cleats and shorts. He was a coach, one charged with guiding the next generation of American stars hoping to emulate even a chunk of his success. He was even an owner, one that was beginning the process of making his mark on an English Premier League club.
That all changed on Thursday afternoon. After nearly two years, he was back.
Donovan confirmed on Thursday that he has called off his retirement to rejoin his longtime club, the LA Galaxy, for the rest of the 2016 season. The forward said that he told himself to “never say never” when he walked away from the game 20 months ago, but he always believed it was highly unlikely that he would step foot on the field again. But even after riding off into the sunset with an MLS Cup in hand, Donovan just could not stay away, for a variety of reasons.
One of them was a sense of duty. After seeing the Galaxy pillaged by injury after injury, the 34-year-old star felt a desire to step up in the club’s time of need. Following the Galaxy’s game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Aug. 27, Donovan received some half-hearted messages asking him to come back.
The other reason, Donovan says, is that the move gives him a chance to bring his son, Talon, with him on one final ride. For years, Donovan was jealous as he watched from afar as his teammates brought their loved ones onto the field after a game to share what he saw as a special moment. Now, he will have that chance to show his first child a glimpse at the game that his father loves.
In the end, the stars aligned, making a return one that made sense. Donovan says that he was never “banging down anyone’s begging to play soccer again,” but given the situation at hand, it was an ideal scenario for him to return to a club he calls home.
“My goal here is to help. I don’t have this crazy urge to go running around a soccer field again, but I do like to help, ” Donovan said in a video released by the club. “I love this team, I love this club and I love this organization, and it seemed like the situation played out in a way where the team could use a little bit of help, almost probably exclusively, in a reserve role or as a substitute to help try to fill the shoes of Gyasi (Zardes), Nigel (de Jong) and some of the other guys that are injured.”
“At this point, I’m not going to fill Gyasi’s shoes. I’m just not that player any more, but if I can help in small ways, on the field or off the field, and help the team, maybe, win a sixth championship, that would be awesome.”
Donovan says he realizes that he is “far away” from peak fitness. After two years away, the 34-year-old forward says he feels significantly different than he did at his best, even after an accelerated fitness plan designed to get him back into game shape. Still, Donovan says he is not expecting to go 90 minutes straight away, and maybe not for the rest of the year. However, he feels he can contribute in spurts in situations that call for his abilities.
While he may not feel like the Donovan of old, his number selection, in one way, hearkens back to his early career. With Giovani dos Santos currently sporting the No. 10 shirt, Donovan will return in the No. 26. The number is a special one to Donovan, as it represents both his son’s birthday and the first number he wore with Bayer Leverkusen as a 17-year-old prospect.
“I’ve already had dreams about what it’s going to be like putting the jersey on and going back on the field,” Donovan said. “I anticipate a good reception, and I also realize that the impetus is on me now to perform still. I can’t just put on a jersey and go out there and expect to be the same player. People are paying money. They’re fans for a reason. I can’t go out there and not perform.
“I’m looking forward to, hopefully, a good reception, but I want to reciprocate and give them what they expect. It’s not going to be perfect, there will be bumps along the way, but the ultimate goal is that, on Dec. 10, I want to be holding a trophy again, and I want to be doing that with this team.”
Here’s a closer look at Donovan’s first interview since returning to the Galaxy: