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Soccer

Landon Donovan ends retirement and returns to the Los Angeles Galaxy

Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan celebrates the Galaxy’s MLS Cup championship on Dec. 7, 2014.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

A week ago Landon Donovan was a former soccer player, a new husband and father, a part-time TV analyst and a part-owner of an English Premier League team.

But he was also restless and felt he still had something left to contribute on the field. So Thursday, after only three days of workouts, Donovan ended his 21-month retirement by re-signing with the Galaxy.

“Landon had a desire to play again,” said Galaxy Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena, who first began discussing a comeback with Donovan last weekend. “So in this case, if you’re going to gamble a little bit, this is a pretty good guy to gamble with.”

The Galaxy have six regular-season games and the Major League Soccer playoffs remaining, with Donovan’s contract expiring at season’s end. Terms of the deal were not released publicly but a source with knowledge of the negotiations said Donovan’s contract was worth the league’s maximum player charge of $457,500, prorated for the final third of the season. That means it will pay him about $152,500.

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Donovan, expected to be in a No. 26 Galaxy uniform for Sunday’s home game against Orlando City, addressed his decision in a lengthy Facebook post, saying the idea came to him after a late August  game in which three Galaxy players were sidelined because of injuries.

“I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with my family and close friends over the past several days,” Donovan wrote ,“and we all agreed that this would be a wonderful opportunity and a win-win situation for everyone.”

But the climb back could be steep even for Donovan, the all-time leader in goals and assists in both MLS and with the U.S. national team. Although he’s only j 34, he hasn’t played a top-level soccer game since the 2014 MLS Cup final. And his first training session with the Galaxy’s first team will be Friday.

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“It’s No. 1, getting up to speed, because regardless of what you’re doing to stay in shape, it doesn’t come close to full force when you are in a competitive professional match,” said former teammate Cobi Jones, an analyst on Galaxy broadcasts. “He’s got a ways to go, I would imagine.”

The second part of the equation is determining how and where Donovan can best help a team that has been playing together for nine months.

“Now that you’ve brought Landon in it’s, ‘All right, where’s he going to fit in this scheme,’” Jones said. “I think it’s a no-brainer that he’s going to be central somewhere and help combine. That’s one of the bigger lacks for the Galaxy this year — having that extra player to combine with.”

Donovan retired in December 2014, citing burnout after leading the Galaxy to their fifth MLS Cup title. And his return comes less than two weeks after the Galaxy abruptly released midfielder Nigel de Jong. Arena insisted Thursday that the two moves were unrelated, although De Jong’s departure did create space for Donovan, both on the team and within the payroll.

Donovan, however, was hardly the only candidate to fill those voids.

 “When we had a roster spot open up, we had players from all over the world that wanted to come,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said. “Bruce went through those options but we kept coming back to this one: a player that certainly knows our club and knows our league and how to be successful and how to win.”

So the Galaxy moved quickly, landing Donovan only a week before teams must set their rosters for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs. And the Galaxy have been stumbling, winning only one of their last eight games with four starters sidelined because of injuries.

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“It’s almost the stars perfectly aligning,” said Fox Sports commentator Alexi Lalas, a former national team player and Galaxy general manager. “Because you have a Landon Donovan, who is physically still able to contribute and I think mentally still feels like he has something to give. And you have a Galaxy that, in this moment, is desperate and more than willing to try something and anything in order to increase their chances of having success come the postseason.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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