Even as a large portion of the American soccer fanbase continues to ignore Major League Soccer — trust me, I am FAR from blameless in this — it continues to provide a home to a large number of important USMNT players. Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez all hail from the domestic league and four other national-teamers from the Honduras squad suit up stateside. This all goes without mentioning one of the most critical players in the US system, the man who has had the hopes of millions piled on his back for over a decade: Landon Donovan.
At the end of last season, the United States’ all-time leading scorer decided he needed an extended, Ricky Williams-eque holiday. His most recent endeavor has been an unpaid trip to Cambodia. It’s not quite early retirement, becoming a yoga instructor and studying Indian medicine, but it’s not that far way. Well, much like Ricky, Landon couldn’t stay away too long and, according to Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, will return to the field for LA at the end of March.
With Donovan’s much-needed break — hard to begrudge him after spending the past two off-seasons at Everton — seemingly coming to a close, the one question on the minds of most is when, and if, he will join the USMNT in its quest for Brazil 2014.
Even before his latest Far East sabbatical, Donovan only featured in six of Jürgen Klinsmann’s first 19 games in charge. His talent means that as long as he’s open to the prospect of playing for his country again — his angsty-teen “vacation” falls way short of the insanity that usually gets soccer players knocked out of national team consideration — the manager has to at least consider the idea.
For a while, it seemed that the team and even an admiring fanbase had largely moved on. Landon will be Landon and the Clint Dempsey-powered USMNT train will leave the station with or without him. Graham Zusi even formed a pretty damn good facsimile of Donovan at times. But a loss to Honduras means at least some degree of panic. Suddenly, a team that might be better in the long run without Donovan cried for his presence.
Speaking at USC before his Cambodian adventure, Donovan expressed an interest in playing for the US in the future. Klinsmann, while rather transparently frustrated with the whole ordeal, still appears committed to keeping the lines of communication open whenever Donovan wants to return. It won’t be for the next round of qualifiers, but it could be when the Hexagonal picks back up in June, especially with warmup friendlies conveniently schedule that would allow him to ease back into the fold.
Arena’s announcement is little consolation for fans hoping to see Donovan lead the team onto the pitch at Azteca, but the road to return is in a little bit clearer focus. Coming back for LA is the first step.