Landon Donovan has always done things his way. When many expected him to fight for a European career, he built his name in MLS, becoming arguably American soccer’s best ever player. At a time where many players are still pushing for more, Donovan called it a career at the age of 32 before throwing what appeared to be one final curveball with a brief return to the game two years later.
But, even for those that have followed Donovan’s career and all of the twists and turns that have come with it, his latest move is something totally unexpected and completely unprecedented.
Donovan is set to return from his second retirement with Mexican side Club Leon. It was a story that appeared to be little more than a joke until, suddenly, it wasn’t. It was another stunning move from Donovan, and one that prompts plenty of questions and intrigue from the outside.
For Leon, the move brings plenty of positives off the field. Even with his status as a U.S. Men’s National Team star, Donovan has built a feeling of mutual respect with many throughout the Mexican game and has long stated his admiration for the country and its soccer culture. He’s fluent in Spanish as well, adding even more of a marketing presence for a club that just generated a heck of a lot of buzz.
From a soccer perspective, though, what can Donovan produce? He’s played less than 500 minutes of professional soccer since 2014 and appeared set with an analyst gig, several coaching opportunities at the youth level, a role with Swansea City and a potential MLS expansion side in San Diego. He’s been out of the game for quite some time and seemed comfortable away from it.
According to Leon sporting director Rodrigo Fernandez, though, Donovan has something to offer on the field even after several years away.
“It wasn’t easy [to bring him to Club Leon], but the fact he was here in Leon helped us a lot,” Fernandez said on Saturday. “He got to know the city, the stadium, some of the facilities this great club has, and that helped persuade him. With the mentality he has he is coming to contribute. He’s a winner, and he’s coming to produce.”
“It is an honor to be a teammate of Landon Donovan,” added Club Leon and USMNT goalkeeper William Yarbrough. “Our obligation is to help him get ready fast. When this type of player comes, he is welcome. Any player who comes to add something to the team is welcome.”
On the surface, every part of Donovan’s move defies logic. He’s 36-years-old and has long had a love-hate relationship with the sport he’s always excelled at. He’s been out of that game for the better part of four years and appears to have a comfortable life away from it. Now, he’s entering a rugged and tough Liga MX that is still, in many ways, more advanced than MLS.
But Landon Donovan’s career has always defied logic. It’s never been one that followed expectations or predicted storylines. Donovan’s career has always been uniquely his own, and its set to continue with what is probably his most stunning move yet.