Landon Donovan Comes Back to Soccer
2012 was a trying year for American soccer star, Landon Donovan. Having played an extensive schedule that included a two month loan move to Everton during the MLS offseason directly after a full MLS season and MLS Cup Final run, and a full MLS season afterwards, not to mention several important World Cup qualifying and friendly international matches for the USA, I doubt too many people were surprised that Donovan announced that he needed an extended break following his MLS Cup victory with the Los Angeles Galaxy last November.
But what worried fans was not the cry for a break, but instead the mumblings about retirement and a loss of passion for soccer that Donovan expressed in the final months of 2012.
But in the past week, Landon Donovan has returned to professional soccer, well rested and apparently ready to take on the game again. Thoughts of a possible retirement or an unwillingness to partake in the 2014 World Cup have been tossed out the window as Donovan has voiced a desire to return to the national team.
Perhaps the impressive American display in Mexico, where the USA held on to a 0-0 draw for only their second competitive point in Azteca Stadium, inspired the star to return to his profession. But Landon Donovan has a long way to go before he is back in the American starting 11, and he must begin by recovering his place in the MLS Los Angeles Galaxy side.
In missing the first month of the 2013 MLS season, Landon Donovan has been rightly stripped of the captain armband, which has been given to Irish striker Robbie Keane. For Donovan, it will be a grounding experience.
Additionally, the Galaxy has actually played surprisingly well considering Donovan has been out of the picture and with the departure of David Beckham in the offseason. Through their first three games without Donovan, the Galaxy had earned a solid 7 points while Mike Magee has taken over as the team' impact player, racking up 5 goals already on the season.
But while things have gone well without their most famed player, during the two substitute appearances Donovan has made since, the team has been outscored 3-1. Barely squeaking by with a late Jose Villarreal goal to earn a draw against Toronto FC, and with the team then blowing a one goal lead against Monterrey of Mexico in the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League semifinals match, it seems as though the presence of Landon Donovan is actually harming the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Although defensive errors aren't necessarily the fault of a forward player like Donovan, there could be an emotional toll involved. The Galaxy players have battled and stood up to the test of playing without their two big stars, and perhaps the moment Donovan steps onto the field, they relax and expect him to take the reigns.
Out of form from four months relaxing, Donovan is clearly incapable of making an impact at this point. For the Galaxy, such a strange experience is coming at a most inopportune time, and may be costing them points and games.
The CONCACAF Champions League is one of the major trophies available to North American clubs and also presents an opportunity for the winning club to earn a trip to the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco this year.
With the semifinal second leg match being played in Monterrey, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena may want to think about leaving Landon Donovan on the bench. Though, if the game gets out of hand and the Galaxy needs a spark, one must assume Donovan will make an appearance.
Landon Donovan needs to make a resurgence to his top form and quickly. The Monterrey game may come too soon for him to be ready, but an inspiring performance could be just what he and his teammates need.
As far as the national team is concerned, Landon Donovan will also have to work hard to earn any future call-ups, with the next set of games set for June when the USA plays two friendlies against Germany and Belgium before a set of three World Cup qualifying matches against Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras.
The American national team has struggled without Donovan in the lineup, earning just 4 points from their first three matches. Mid table in a group they have expected to dominate, the team is more and more relying on the heroics of Clint Dempsey.
Striker Jozy Altidore has improved, but needs to start scoring goals. Other young guys like Brek Shea, Terrence Boyd, and Graham Zusi have shown potential in recent international matches, but America would do well to have a fully charged Landon Donovan in the mix. Donovan has always been the spark plug for American soccer, setting up vital goals or scoring the last-ditch efforts.
American coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stated that he would judge Donovan just like any other player when considering future call-ups, but I would be very surprised if Donovan isn't in the American team by June based solely on his impressive history with the team.
At age 31, Donovan has performed well at multiple World Cups, and he is at the peak age of maturity, when veteran leadership blends with good physicality that has yet to decline. If the USA is going to make a serious run at the World Cup he will not only have to play, but be playing at his best form. The sooner he is back with the team, the better-prepared America will be in Brazil 2014.
Although the World Cup is still a full year away, Landon Donovan will be feeling the pressure to lead his team there with full steam If the recent qualification matches are any indicator, his presence on the national side will be fully embraced.
Now if he can just start making the necessary impact for the Los Angeles Galaxy to earn his national team place back, American soccer fans can once again get excited for their soccer team and their inspiring player.
© Nicholas Spiller & Soccerphile.com