Nobody is quite sure how fit Donovan is – and that probably includes Donovan himself – but even an underpowered and step-slow legend is going to be a whole lot better than most of the league. He will be re-united with Bruce Arena, with whom Donovan made his name at the 2002 World Cup and became “Everyone’s Favorite American Soccer Player” (Bay Area notwithstanding) as a member of the Galaxy. It’s a great partnership.
And they are reunited at a great time. The announcement was made a day after LA tied Real Salt Lake 3-3 on the road. Not a bad result, but it came thanks to a puzzling lineup. With Nigel De Jong in Turkey, Gyasi Zardes on the mend, and Robbie Keane not getting any younger Arena was forced to use Baggio Husidic as a right winger and defense-phobic Sebastian Lletget as a central midfielder.
Donovan won’t be able to solve all of those problems by himself, and he certainly isn’t going to be able to paint glue all over Brian Rowe’s fingers, but he’s another asset. It’s doubtful that Donovan will be any more than a late-game substitute for the rest of 2016 but goodness, there may be no more deadly passer or slasher from minute 60-onwards in any Galaxy game for the rest of the season.
That, coupled with Donovan assumedly allowing himself to have fun and and “just live, maaaan” will allow him to be quite the asset. After all, he accomplished a whole decade’s worth of stuff since clenching his fists through his first few years in Los Angeles. A relaxed, dare we say “goofy” Landon, playing within a system he’s familiar with a coach that knows how to use role players, will be fun to watch.
The question remains, however: will Donovan be effective? Shoehorning another play style next to Giovanni Dos Santos, next to Frank Lampard and behind Robbie Keane is difficult. Two years of rust is a whole lot of rust. And Los Angeles’ biggest problems this year involved letting teams dominate possession and pin back their fullbacks. That’s a problem exacerbated by a missing De Jong, not another new winger.
They may score more and more thrilling goals with Donovan in the fold, but that will not really help them past Dallas. Los Angeles has their work cut out for them to reach their sixth championship, and fifth with Donovan. Donovan’s a welcome addition to the team and will get a warm welcome back from pretty much every town besides San Jose. But it is unclear if he will actually make a difference on the field.
The Galaxy were through to the playoffs anyways. The path is less clear for their biggest rivals. According to American Soccer Analysis, Portland, San Jose and Seattle are brawling over the sixth playoff spot in the West. Portland is at 41%, San Jose has a 34% chance and Seattle is sitting in eighth at a 26% chance to sneak into the playoffs.
Portland may be the best bet, but they are also dealing with the attrition of CONCACAF and Champions League matches — four games, including two ties in Costa Rica and El Salvador. As for the other two? They essentially battle for the right to be considered on Saturday in San Jose.
San Jose has been very bad and not good recently, going 1-2-2 with losses to Houston at home and Columbus away. David Bingham, who has been a stud goalkeeper all year, left early in their last match with a back injury. Chris Wondolowski hasn’t scored since July. Their best lineup probably includes three defensive midfielders. They fired their General Manager a few weeks ago, taking coach Dom Kinnear by surprise.
And yet they still have a fighting chance because of that tough backline and those steely midfielders, who will get tested by Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris (Clint Dempsey will still be out with a heart condition). Seattle is trying to get themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves in the beginning of the season, but it hasn’t been easy. Saturday is their third road game in a row and there is no reason to think San Jose will be any more pleasant than Portland or Houston, especially with the heat wave hitting the Bay Area at the moment.
San Jose thinks that Seattle is one of their rivals, an anger which seems to confound Sounders fans. Considering both teams would happily line up to take their shots at a Donovan-ful Galaxy team in the first round of the playoffs, they will bring everything they got to Saturday’s matchup.
If it is a pretty game, Seattle will probably win or tie. If it gets ugly and Lodeiro gets frustrated, then San Jose has the advantage. It won’t be as world-changing as a legend returning, but it will set up who Donovan gets to face off against.
Asher Kohn regularly contributes a soccer column to SiriusXM Sports. He’s based out of the Bay Area and is happy to talk MLS or USMNT on Twitter: @ajkhn. Keep up with all the soccer news across the globe with SiriusXM FC (Ch. 85).