Landon Donovan: The return of a ‘LegenD’


RETURN OF THE KING — Landon Donovan ended his retirement on Sept. 11 in a win against Orlando City S.C. (Photo by AP Images)

“Landon Donovan… Can they do it here? Cross… and Dempsey is denied again! And Donovan has scored! Oh, can you believe this? Go, go, USA! Certainly through! Oh, it’s incredible. You could not write a script like this!”

LD, Lando, Don Ovan, Landycakes, Captain America, LegenD – whatever you choose to call him, there is no denying that Mr. Donovan is an American soccer hero.

The man, best known for that amazing goal against Algeria in the 2010 FIFA World Cup (as referenced above), brought an elementary school sport to professional levels in his 15-year-long career. Scoring 57 goals for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) and 112 for Major League Soccer (MLS) club L.A. Galaxy, Donovan has etched his name into sports history.

Donovan holds the USMNT records for most games started (142), most consecutive appearances with an assist (4), most goals (57), most assists (58) and most points (172).

Within MLS, Donovan scored the most goals (144) and created the most assists (136) in league history.

He announced his retirement in 2014, stating a lack of passion. The star had previously taken a hiatus from play in 2013 to work out his feelings for the game. And even after his controversial snub for the 2014 FIFA World Cup team, Donovan ended his career by winning the MLS Cup for the sixth time.

In 2015, The Guardian newspaper named him as the greatest male American soccer player of all-time. The same year, MLS announced they would change the name of The Major League Soccer MVP Award to the Landon Donovan MVP Award.

And now, the legend has returned.

On Sept. 8, Donovan posted to his Facebook wall: “I am very happy to announce that I have decided to rejoin my hometown team, the L.A. Galaxy, for the remainder of the MLS season.”

In the paragraphs that followed, Donovan explained the reasoning behind the decision, but the words were bookmarked as every fan had the same thoughts running through their heads: Landon Donovan is coming out of retirement? Landon Donovan is coming out of retirement! This isn’t a joke. This is real. Breathe.

The return to play comes at a vital time for the Galaxy, who have been suffering from numerous injuries this season. Former teammates and staff at the club jokingly asked Donovan to come back. After a while, it started to sound less like a joke and more like reality.

“Over the ensuing days, I began to think about their inquiries and it struck me that perhaps this is something I should consider,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I care so deeply about the Galaxy organization, and I believe I could help in a small way to aid the team in its quest for a sixth MLS championship.”

In an 83rd-minute substitution against Orlando City S.C. on Sept. 11, Donovan made his official comeback in the No. 26 Galaxy home jersey in front of a packed house of thunderous ovations. The Galaxy finished with a commanding 4-2 win over their opponents.

A lot has happened in Donovan’s two years away from the game. He got married to wife Hannah Bartell in 2015, and the two welcomed their first child, Talon, in Jan. of this year. He had also made the player-to-commentator transition while calling games for Fox Sports.
Donovan is re-entering the game with that renewed sense of passion he had been struggling to find.

Of his 15 years as a professional, Donovan played 14 seasons in America, with off-season loan spells in Europe. Plenty of Americans have come and gone and done the same thing, and some spent the majority of their careers overseas. What makes this story so special? Why does it matter?
Donovan could have played in Europe. He had great successes at Premier League team Everton F.C. during his loans. As much as he loved the team (he often refers to himself as an Evertonian), he wanted to grow the game back home. He had a vision for soccer in America and he stayed loyal to his fans.

More than anything, Donovan left his mark on the lives of young soccer fans in this country – young fans who were inspired to pick up a ball after school or join their local travel league. He was their first experience with the sport. He made them believe and cheer and cry and yell. They grew up watching him through the television screen, tightly clutching his replica jersey as they begged for one more thrilling goal.
To many, it’s simple: Landon Donovan is American soccer. He is Captain America.

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