Perhaps a surprising start for Landon Donovan on Saturday should not have been such a surprise after all, not considering the guy’s career-long reputation for superior fitness.
Still, the guy has been back on the field for just two weeks – following that four-month sabbatical that began immediately after last year’s MLS Cup triumph – and trained with the team for less than three. So to see the guy run, pass, trap and shoot for a full 90 minutes Saturday, just three days after going a full 90 in the Galaxy’s important CONCACAF Champions League match in Monterrey on Wednesday night, was fairly impressive stuff.
Three things to take away from Donovan’s night, which both he and Bruce Arena admitted were hardly the best minutes he’ll ever supply for the Galaxy. What they both said in a nutshell: it will get better.
- On Donovan’s level of fitness and his overall physical conditioning, it’s not there – but it’s not bad. Forgotten in all the other things to talk about in an eventful Texas night was this: It was Donovan’s burst along the right, past two FCD defenders, that helped arrange the Galaxy’s second-half penalty kick (which he would miss, just the third PK failure for Donovan in 37 MLS career attempts.) Clearly, the man still has that burst – even if he has to carefully, strategically apply it for the time being.
- Sometime before the 70th minute, Arena pulled Donovan back from his forward position, asking him to play along the right for 10-man LA. (Down to 10 following Leonardo’s ejection for pulling down FCD’s Blas Perez.) Think about that: with a lot of defending ahead, and even though Donovan was clearly nowhere near full fitness, Arena trusted his veteran attacker pull midfield duty, even when younger, more fully fit types were available. We are talking about a very wise manager, and he was demonstrating tremendous faith.
- Donovan was clearly keeping himself fit (at least reasonably so) while on break. That’s the only explanation for the U.S. international’s ability to make a difference so quickly. Plus, the sabbatical apparently provided Donovan a good chance to heal all those little injuries he was carrying from extended use over last couple of years.