CARSON, Calif. – Josh Saunders is back with the LA Galaxy, thrilled to be with his friends and teammates and understandably is anxious to pick up where he left off.
Just when that will be remains unclear, with the Galaxy goalkeeper still going through Major League Soccer’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (SABH) program, which he entered late last month. Saunders, who initially missed the team’s 1-1 tie against FC Dallas on April 28 to deal with what the team said was a “personal matter,” returned to training on Monday. He is not eligible to play in Wednesday’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes at The Home Depot Center or Saturday’s game in Houston against the Dynamo.
“He looks great,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “He sounds great. We’re pleased that he’s well on the road to recovery.”
Saunders, 31, who was cleared to join the team for last week’s visit to The White House, shed little light on his situation Tuesday, but he did say no drugs or alcohol were involved.
“I was under some stress,” he said. “I was putting myself under a lot of pressure. I just needed to step away. There’s obviously a lot of stories floating around. It’s unfortunate that people were taking it and blowing it out of proportion before they got a chance to talk to me.
“I was under some stress, I had some family issues, I wanted to deal with them on my own. We’re human, we have a life outside of soccer and people forget that.
“I’m happy to be in the state I’m in now.”
His teammates certainly were pleased to see him.
“He’s been through a difficult time and it’s great to have him back,” David Beckham said Tuesday. “It’s great to have him back in the locker room. We’re all happy. He looks great.
“He’s straight back into it, he’s had a little bit of stick (from his teammates) for having a few weeks off. But it’s good to have him back.
It’s important for him to get back with the players and the team and his friends.
“He seems happy. That’s a good thing.”
Added Arena, “I think Josh is a person that everyone cares about.
Certainly it was difficult when he had to deal with these issues.
“To see him back and doing so well is certainly encouraging for everyone.”
Saunders, who won the starting job from Donovan Ricketts last season when the club won its third MLS Cup, has missed the last five games with the Galaxy going 0-3-2 in his absence.
He admitted it has been difficult to not be able to help the team snap out of its early-season doldrums.
“It’s difficult to watch. I left abruptly,” he said. “I’m a person, I need first and foremost to take care of my family and myself. It was difficult.”