(Editorial) – For those of you living under a rock, Landon Donovan has returned to Major League Soccer. He has signed a non-DP contract with the LA Galaxy for the remainder of the 2016 MLS season. He has not played professional soccer in almost two years. With several unknowns surrounding his returns, let’s break it all down.
Landon Donovan Returns: What It Means For The LA Galaxy
First of all, this gives the LA Galaxy some life. With a bunch of recent injuries, a lack of chemistry in the attack, and the bizarre Nigel de Jong transfer, there was a lot of doom and gloom around the team. Donovan probably won’t the savior that puts the Galaxy on his back on the way to an MLS Cup. Still, he had great chemistry with Robbie Keane back in the day and he can play multiple positions where the Galaxy need more production.
Where Is His Fitness At?
Donovan hasn’t played competitively since MLS Cup 2014. Based on recent pictures, he doesn’t appear to be totally out of shape. Lots of professional athletes let themselves go after retiring and Donovan certainly hasn’t done that. On Extra Time Radio this past Thursday, Alexi Lalas said that he’d played a pick up game with Donovan recently and said he didn’t look retired based on the shape he was in.
That’s a good sign. Still, his first official practice with the team was this past Friday. Even if he’s in good shape, he’s probably not at the level of teammates who are in mid season form. With less than 10 games left in the Galaxy’s MLS regular season, Donovan only has so much time to get up to speed so he can make a significant contribution.
I would expect him to start off as a super sub, which he doesn’t mind. If and when he gets comfortable/fit, he’ll work his way into the Starting XI in some capacity.
What Position Is He Even Going To Play?
In short, I don’t know. Once Robbie Keane returns from injury, we could see that dynamic duo reunite up top. While the Galaxy have good speed on the wings with Emmanuel Boateng and Sebastian Lletget, they haven’t produced that much offensively this season. In 2786 minutes played, they’ve combined for 3 goals and 8 assists. That’s less than 0.1 goals and 0.26 assists per 90 minutes played.
Head Coach Bruce Arena has experimented with a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formation this year. Part of the Galaxy’s woes has been that Arena has gone away from their 4-4-2 system that made them an MLS dynasty. Donovan could play the traditional No. 10 role in a 4-2-3-1. I’m pretty sure Arena is done with the 4-3-3 due to his current midfield options. That said, Donovan could play on either forward wings in that formation, cutting inside to create chances.
Donovan could also be pared up top with Giovani dos Santos until Keane comes back. They’ll need to develop a relationship quickly to help the Galaxy make a run. With all that said, I think Arena will try and return to his 4-4-2 and possibly recreate Tiki Taco. Donovan knows the system and can play four different positions in that formation.
The only question mark with that move would be who plays the central box-to-box role next to Jeff Larentowicz. Steven Gerrard is still hurt and he hasn’t been great in that role when he has been healthy.
I do expect Keane and Donovan to be reunited up top at some point once Keane is healthy.
What Does This Mean For the Galaxy’s Title Hopes?
It clearly gives a plausible path to MLS Cup. The Supporter’s Shield is probably out of the question with the lead FC Dallas has on them. That said, the Galaxy’s biggest question mark of the season has been their offensive chemistry. Their three best offensive players (Keane, Dos Santos, and Gyasi Zardes) all need to play as forwards to be effective. Keane and Dos Santos still can’t play together as they both want to be that underneath striker on the ball. They’ve had a year together and still haven’t figured it out.
Donovan however brings them another offensive option. In particular, he was a world class chance creator in his career. He can help them score from the wings. He can play with Keane. With Dos Santos wanting to play a similar role, Donovan could play well with him.
While this team had a pessimistic cloud hanging over their heads from August, there is reason for slight optimism now. If Donovan can be something close to his 2014 self (big if) and they can get healthy, they’ll be able to beat anyone come playoff time.
That said I still need to see more from them before declaring them an MLS Cup contender.