Following his disappointing omission from the United States men's national team's World Cup squad, Landon Donovan got to close out his career in the best way possible. He won the MLS All-Star Game MVP in a win over Bayern Munich, was handed a sendoff match by U.S. Soccer in front of a sold-out crowd, and won MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy at the Galaxy's home stadium. He had the perfect retirement. And now he's back.
On Thursday, news broke that Donovan will come out of retirement to re-join the LA Galaxy. Blake Thomsen broke the news and Grant Wahl added the details -- Donovan's deal is just until the end of the year and he'll be available immediately.
Despite not having played professional soccer since December 2014, he'll jump right into trying to help the Galaxy improve their playoff positioning and win MLS Cup, with just six regular season games remaining. This was pretty sudden and surprising news, so you might have several questions. The imaginary reader who haunts my dreams certainly did. Here are the answers.
Is there any chance this is a publicity stunt?
That's an understandable initial reaction because of the suddenness of the announcement and the late-season timing, but no, it's not a publicity stunt at all.
Galaxy's average attendance so far this season is 24,810, up from 23,392 in 2015 and 21,258 in 2014. Their local TV deal runs until 2020. They're playing entertaining soccer, with Giovani dos Santos and Steven Gerrard proving to be successful box office draws and productive players. They don't need gimmicks.
They're also in a very tight fight for a first-round playoff bye with the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake, so they're not interested in doing something that's going to damage the team's ability to win soccer games, whether that be through a gimmicky signing or messing up team chemistry. The Galaxy thinks Donovan will help their team win games. That's the only reason he's back.
OK, so why now, this late in the season?
Just over a week ago, the Galaxy learned that forward Gyasi Zardes will miss the rest of the season with a broken foot. Zardes is a key player for the Galaxy -- in addition to his six goals and five assists, he provides versatility, with an ability to play at striker or on either wing. The Galaxy have respectable depth behind him, but they're not really in a position to write off this season and look toward the future.
It's possible that Gerrard and Robbie Keane -- both 36 years old -- don't continue to play for the Galaxy after this season, or that they drop off significantly in quality if they decide to play one more year. The Galaxy's window to win a title with those players is about to shut. Expecting new signings to fit into the team seamlessly and make them title favorites again next season is unreasonable.
Plus, even if the Galaxy were willing to be patient, why should they be? Their team is good enough to win the title right now. Why not call the best replacement for Zardes possible and see if he's interested in playing?
Apparently, he was. And even though Donovan isn't the exact same type of player as Zardes, he can do a lot of the same things. He plays multiple positions, he can score goals, and he's an unselfish player who likes assisting as much as scoring. That's the best the Galaxy could hope for in a Zardes replacement.
Do we know how good Donovan is? There's a chance he doesn't have it anymore, right?
Yes, but he might be just fine after a year and a half of rest. Donovan was burned out from overuse in his late 20s and early 30s, but he doesn't actually have that many games on his legs. He's played 641 senior pro games, compared to over 850 for both Keane and Gerrard. It's extremely plausible that he still has a couple of good seasons left in the tank.
There's also no higher upside player that the Galaxy could have signed this late in the season, and on this short of notice. Donovan was the best player in MLS during the second half of the 2014 season. And even if he's average or below average by his standards -- like he was in the first half of 2014 -- he's still going to be a more productive player than someone promoted from LA Galaxy II would be.
And on top of all that, trusting Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena is usually a good bet. He's watched Donovan train and decided it was worth a shot. If Donovan's playing for the Galaxy, it's because Arena thinks he's good enough, and Arena's resume is beyond scrutiny at this point.
But what will Donovan actually bring to the Galaxy? That's impossible to know. Him being a top starter and being fairly useless are equally likely outcomes, based on his form just before he retired and his spending a year and a half out of the sport. He's a smart signing for LA, but it's very difficult to guess if he'll be a successful one.
UPDATE: While the outcome isn't known, one thing is: Landon Donovan has officially returned to the LA Galaxy.
He's back. pic.twitter.com/tOEduyVv7u— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) September 8, 2016