There was good news and bad news on the Landon Donovan front Sunday.
The good news is that the Galaxy captain, who was strongly considering retirement, will return to training with the two-time defending Major League Soccer champions in late March, ending a self-imposed sabbatical to deal with physical and mental burnout.
The bad news is that Donovan’s return won’t come until after the U.S. national team’s crucial World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico next month. Donovan, the national team’s all-time leading scorer and arguably the best American player ever, missed the U.S.’ first two games this season and the team played listlessly without him, failing to score in a draw with Canada and losing, 2-1, to Honduras in the first match of the final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014.
“After a series of collaborative discussions between Landon, his representatives and our key club leaders, we have agreed to allow Landon to remain on an extended leave of absence,” Galaxy Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena said Sunday. “We understand this agreement is not ideal, but we are confident it will allow Landon the time he needs to be both mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming season.”
Donovan, who turns 31 on March 4, hasn’t been on a soccer field since scoring the winning goal in the MLS Cup final Dec. 1. That ended an injury-plagued season in which he frequently complained of exhaustion and depression after averaging a game every eight days for nearly 12 years.
Donovan still managed 14 assists — two shy of his MLS best — for the Galaxy. In just six games with the national team, he had three goals and an assist, his seven points making him the U.S.’ second-leading scorer.
The Galaxy opens its MLS season March 3 against the Chicago Fire at the Home Depot Center. Donovan figures to return to the Galaxy lineup in late April, but his future with the national team is unknown. Barring injury, Donovan could be ready for a spate of World Cup qualifiers — with Jamaica, Panama and Honduras — in mid-June, but it’s uncertain how much Coach Juergen Klinsmann wants him back.
Last month Klinsmann said he and Donovan had exchanged text messages but had not met. And two weeks ago U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley indicated the team was ready to go on without him.
“Landon felt like he needed some time to figure out what was next for him, how to go forward,” Bradley said. “We all support that. But at the same time, life goes on here.”