WASHINGTON – Landon Donovan missed the entirety of the LA Galaxy’s preseason as well as the first month of games while on a self-imposed break from the game of soccer, but now the club’s all-time leading goal scorer feels fresh and ready to contribute for his club and his country.
Following the club’s MLS Cup triumph in December, Donovan took a sabbatical from the game that eventually caused him to miss five Galaxy matches, three U.S. World Cup Qualifiers and the entire preseason. The 31-year-old returned to the Galaxy on Tuesday, joining the club for a brief training session as well as the team’s visit to the White House to be honored for their 2012 MLS Cup championship by President Barack Obama.
“I definitely needed a break, I was fortunate to have a lot of people both personally and professionally that also understood that,” Donovan told reporters in his first media availability since 2012 following the Galaxy’s training session at Georgetown on Thursday. “Now I’m excited to be back and to move forward and enjoy playing.”
But when did he get the feeling that he needed to return?
“I wanted to get the enjoyment back. I watched our first game against Chicago, the Galaxy game, at home [on March 3] and really had that itch again to play and knew that I was ready,” Donovan said.
During the first days of training, Donovan has appeared sharp on the field, displaying the same lethal final touch and leadership that helped the Galaxy win consecutive MLS Cup title, according to several of his teammates. While many worried that the club may not receive Donovan in the highest regard after his break, the response has been the exact opposite.
“It’s like he never left. It’s good to see his face again around the team. I think that he’ll bring a lot toward our team. He looks refreshed and looking to build on that,” said defender Omar Gonzalez. “On the field, he was sharp today for being gone two and a half [or] three months. He’s looking good. Landon is a true professional, he watches what he eats, he trains hard and he’s looking good.”
Although Donovan’s return to the Galaxy has been “seamless”, he admits that there were some initial difficulties when speaking to head coach Bruce Arena.
"Understandably, no coach wants to lose one of their players for three months, or a few months of the season,” said Donovan. “At first, Bruce wasn’t ecstatic about it, but I’ve known Bruce a long time and I think he understood pretty clearly how passionate I was about needing this break and now I think everyone can agree that it was absolutely needed and the right thing to do."
As for his goal of once again playing for the U.S. National Team, Donovan understands that his performance with the Galaxy will determine his future. Throughout his absence, Donovan said that U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was “very, very respectful” with him, although he admits that “no coach wants to hear what I had to say or what I did over the last three months.”
However with the lines of communication between him and U.S. Soccer firmly open, Donovan has set a goal of returning for the U.S. team’s three World Cup qualifiers in June, but he knows that it is only with a strong showing with the Galaxy that he will earn his way back.
“Any way we slice it, the way that I perform with LA will determine whether or not I get called back in. That has nothing to do with anybody but me. Ultimately Jurgen makes that decision and he’s the coach so that’s it,” said Donovan in a conference call on Thursday. “My job now is to make it so that he wants me back; he has not said that he does want me to be a part of it. He said that the door is open and once I’m playing again, he’ll evaluate me just like he does every other player and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“It’s my job to earn my way back in,” added Donovan. “If I fall short, I fall short. If he doesn’t want me back then that’s the way it goes. It has to be my goal to do whatever I can so that it’s impossible for them not to have me there. That is what I’m motivated to do.”
Finally ready to resume his life’s pursuit, Donovan did not get into many specifics about his break from the game, but readily confessed that his family played a crucial role.
"My favorite part was being home with my family,” said Donovan. “For 15 years I haven’t spent more than two weeks at a time with my family so it was really nice to do that."
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com