Why we need to be realistic about Landon Donovan’s MLS comeback

In case you missed it, Landon Donovan is coming out of retirement to play for the LA Galaxy for the rest of this MLS season. The news really sent American soccer social media community into a tizzy, with just about everyone going crazy like 15-year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert. While I hate to be the bearer of bad news, we all really need to temper our expectations and realize that this could be a no-win situation for everybody.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Landon Donovan is back, albeit for a few months. I felt Donovan was in an unhappy place two years ago as he was adjusting to life without the U.S. Men’s National Team and wasn’t really feeling like playing anymore. Also, like his sabbatical from the USMNT a couple years before, he needed a break. Even though Donovan was still playing well, he walked away a champion, winning the 2014 MLS Cup. Now, about 21 months later and after becoming a husband and father, Donovan was asked by the Galaxy to come back after injuries have decimated their midfield and Nigel de Jong was sold to Galatasaray. In a statement on his Facebook page, Donovan thought about it and decided to come back and do what he can to help the team.

While Donovan believes this is a win-win situation, I’m not sure it’s like that for everyone else. It seems like Donovan and the team have very realistic views of what kind of input Donovan will have for the Galaxy. He’s not going to be a complete replacement for Jelle Van Damme, Steven Gerrard and Gyasi Zardes. Donovan even said so in his statement. He also said in a sponsor Q&A last month about coming back, “I think if you gave me six months [to train] then I could probably last for a few months. It wasn’t that I couldn’t play anymore, it was that I couldn’t effectively get through an entire season physically, emotionally, mentally. That’s why I said it’s time.”

Donovan seems emotionally and mentally back, but no one knows what he has done to prepare for this comeback, especially when it seemed like this only came about within the past few weeks. Donovan seems realistic but I don’t believe the majority of fans are and will be left disappointed. Even though Landon Donovan is one of the greatest American soccer players ever, he is 34 and hasn’t played competitive soccer in two years. Maybe he can score a goal at some point, but it would be a miracle to see him at his former MVP self.

Let’s entertain the idea that Landon Donovan would come back and immediately light up MLS. What does that say about MLS and the players when someone is able to come in after not playing for two years and take everyone to school? It may be great and exciting in the short term to see Landon Donovan back, but it would be bad for the league in the long term if he is immediately back in form.

Also, despite whether or not Landon Donovan succeeds, it shows a sense of inability for those within all aspects of soccer to move on from an MLS legend like Landon Donovan as a player and look to the future stars of MLS. MLS has enjoyed some great publicity in the past 24 hours, and I highly doubt that mainstream news and sports sites would be talking about MLS if not for Landon Donovan. So in many ways, you need an equal mix of promising newcomers to market and established talent to keep your league in the news. But when almost half of MLS teams post messages welcoming Donovan or fans and the media reacting to Donovan being back as if he just got back from landing on the moon, it showed an appreciation of Landon Donovan coming back but also a subconscious disrespect to other players in MLS, including some players who are very talented and have been in great form. I don’t think any disrespect was intended obviously, but I did get a perception that things have been so bad that Landon Donovan has come back to save the day.

It’s okay to appreciate and be happy that Landon Donovan is back but there are more players in MLS than just Landon Donovan. And the overwhelming happiness of Donovan’s comeback shouldn’t be coming at the expense of players like Cyle Larin, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Fanendo Adi, Ignacio Piatti, Diego Valeri, “Burrito” Martinez, Nicolas Lodeiro and any of the FC Dallas youngsters, among many more who are the future of MLS.

The absolute last thing I want to read a month from now is articles asking “what happened to Landon Donovan?” This is a great story and we, as fans of MLS, will get to see a legend come back for a possible three months. At the same time, let’s be realistic on what a 34-year-old who hasn’t played competitively for two years can and cannot do before expecting to see the man in MVP form. Landon Donovan seems to have accepted that he isn’t the player he used to be. Question is, will others accept the same realization?



About Phillip Bupp

News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me on Twitter @phillipbupp