Landon Donovan ends retirement to rejoin LA Galaxy
Landon Donovan has come out of retirement to rejoin the injury-riddled LA Galaxy for the rest of the MLS season, the club confirmed on Thursday.
After a highly decorated career, Donovan retired at age 32 at the end of the 2014 season. That campaign saw him help the Galaxy win their fifth MLS Cup title.
But the Galaxy have endured a glut of injuries of late, providing an opening for Donovan, now 34, to return to the pitch with six games remaining in the stretch run before the playoffs begin.
Giovani dos Santos currently wears Donovan's famous No. 10, so the league's all-time leading scorer revealed in a video that he will don No. 26, which he wore at Bayer Leverkusen when he began his career in 1999.
He's back. pic.twitter.com/tOEduyVv7u- LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) September 8, 2016
Donovan's addition will certainly provide a boost for the Galaxy, who are tied for second place in the Western Conference with 44 points. Gyasi Zardes is sidelined until the end of the regular season with a broken foot, Steven Gerrard has missed time with a hamstring injury, and defender Jelle Van Damme has been out with an MCL strain.
Donovan confirmed in a post on Facebook that the injuries led to his desire to return to his hometown club.
"Two weeks ago, I was working as an analyst on the LA Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps match and during that game, the Galaxy suffered injuries to three players: Jelle Van Damme, Steven Gerrard and Gyasi Zardes. Over the next few days, Nigel De Jong was transferred to Galatasaray and news broke that Gyasi would be out for the rest of the season," he wrote.
"Since my retirement, I have remained in close contact with many of the staff and players on the Galaxy. I spoke with some of them that week and they jokingly asked if I was ready to make a return to the field to help fill some of the void left by the injuries and departures.
"I reminded them that I haven't played a meaningful soccer game in almost two years and I certainly couldn't fill the holes left by those players. Over the ensuing days, I began to think about their inquiries and it struck me that perhaps this is something I should consider. I care so deeply about the Galaxy organization, and I believe I could help in a small way to aid the team in its quest for a sixth MLS championship."
However, Donovan warned that he may find himself in a reserve role in manager Bruce Arena's team.
"I then had a candid conversation with Bruce Arena and we began down the path of deciding whether this made sense," he wrote. "We both agreed that if this was going to happen, the expectations would be minimal and he would use me in situations that made sense for the team.
"I've spent a lot of time speaking with my family and close friends over the past several days, and we all agreed that this would be a wonderful opportunity and a win-win situation for everyone."
Sources confirmed the deal to ESPN FC earlier on Thursday, though there remains some confusion over what roster mechanism will be used to add Donovan to the Galaxy's roster.
The Galaxy didn't protect Donovan in the 2015 expansion draft and thus lost their right of first refusal to re-sign him, and one source said he's a free agent. The Galaxy did not disclose the details of Donovan's contract.
Arena told the Los Angeles Times that De Jong was not forced out to make room for Donovan.
"I would not participate in any situation where Nigel was encouraged to leave because of this. I would be embarrassed," Arena said. "Personally I wish Nigel was still here. But he's not."
Donovan is the only player to win six MLS Cups and is the league's all-time leading scorer with 169 league and playoff goals. MLS named its MVP trophy after him last year.
He is also the all-time leading scorer for the U.S. national team, having scored 57 times. He was part of the U.S squad at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups and part of U.S teams that claimed the 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2013 Gold Cups.
"I don't think I need to tell anyone what Landon has accomplished in our sport," Arena said in a statement. "He's truly been a great player. Now, Landon wishes to take on another challenge and I believe he has all the qualities necessary to be a player who can help the LA Galaxy in 2016."
Donovan began his professional career in 1999 when he signed with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. In search of playing time, he was loaned to the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001 and proceeded to win MLS Cups there in 2001 and 2003.
He returned to Leverkusen after the 2004 season, but he quickly soured on life in Germany and was transferred to the Galaxy for the 2005 season. After landing in Los Angeles, Donovan won four more MLS Cups, two Supporters' Shields and a U.S. Open Cup.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.