Absent Landon Donovan is topic of conversation around Galaxy

Galaxy star Landon Donovan talks with reporters at a news conference during the MLS Cup playoffs.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Landon Donovan was out of sight at Galaxy training Monday, but he certainly wasn’t out of mind a day after the team announced its captain’s self-imposed soccer sabbatical would continue into late March.

“For whatever reason he feels physically and mentally fatigued and needs some time off,” Galaxy Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena said of Donovan, who had nine goals and 14 assists last season, his 12th in Major League Soccer.

The Donovan-less Galaxy meets a reserve squad from Mexican League champion Tijuana in an exhibition at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Home Depot Center.


Arena said he is hoping Donovan will be ready to return to game action by late April, a timetable that leaves him out of the picture for the first six weeks of the Galaxy’s Major League Soccer schedule, the return of CONCACAF Champions League play and the U.S. national team’s next two World Cup qualifiers with Costa Rica and Mexico in mid-March. Donovan is the leading scorer in U.S. history.

Donovan, who turns 31 in two weeks, has been spending time with family in the Inland Empire this winter. He hasn’t spoken publicly since scoring the go-ahead goal in December’s MLS Cup win over Houston, a victory that gave the Galaxy its second consecutive league title and gave Donovan a record-tying five championships.

But even before that game Donovan, who has averaged a game every eight days for the last dozen years, had complained of mental and physical exhaustion.

“There [are] mental issues involved in professional athletics, regardless what league you’re in,” Arena said. “You see it at the collegiate level. You see it at all levels of competition. It’s a fact of life. We’re not unique. We’re probably pretty typical of athletes and leagues.

“A lot of players have to learn how to cope with different issues, whether they’re playing, success, failure, all those things. And they do take their toll.”

Defender Todd Dunivant agreed.

“We knew that he needed that time. He’s known it for a while,” said Dunivant, who has played seven seasons alongside Donovan with both the Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes. “Since the middle of last year he’s kind of been talking about this. His body’s been going nonstop. And mentally, too, that’s difficult.

“So to give him an extra month or two, that’s certainly going to be a good investment for us.”

Yet Donovan’s absence has left Arena and the Galaxy short-handed as they prepare to defend their title. The coach, however, refused to make excuses.

“You always play games without key players,” he said. “It won’t be the first time. And it won’t be the last time. It’s all part of it.”

But, Arena conceded, the absence of arguably the best player in the history of U.S. soccer will be a harder challenge to overcome.

“The more high-quality players you put on the field for your team, the chances are you’re going to be a better team that’s going to offer different dimensions. So you take one of those pieces away, you’re not going to replace him with similar players.

“If you take LeBron James away from the Miami Heat, I would imagine they’re going to look different.”

Although the Galaxy has closed ranks behind Donovan and continues to be supportive in public, privately some in the organization appear to have lost patience with the team captain, who waited until Sunday -- more than a month after the start of training camp -- to announce a target date for his return.

That’s one reason Donovan is no longer team captain.

“Obviously Landon’s not going to be the captain. He’s not here,” said Arena, who then cautioned, “I wouldn’t make a story out of that at this point.”


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