Rededicated Donovan leads charge
The Galaxy will be counting on Landon Donovan to reverse their fortunes in 2009
Donovan scored two goals in the final 10 minutes Sunday to give L.A. a 2-2 draw
U.S. star is hell-bent on getting Galaxy back to playoffs for first time in four years
Landon Donovan is back in Major League Soccer, and he had a message on Sunday for anyone who thinks that he failed in Germany for a third time: There will be no Euro hangover this year. He picked up where he left off last season, scoring two goals against D.C. United and making it clear that he intends to shake off any disappointment from not getting a contract offer from Bayern Munich, where he was on loan for three months.
The first strike was a clinical penalty-kick finish, while the second displayed both his adroit timing on a run to reach a cross and his surprisingly effective heading ability. The pair of goals pulled the Galaxy level against D.C. in the final 10 minutes of their match, salvaging a draw from disaster in the season opener in Carson, Calif.
Galaxy teammate Tony Sanneh, himself a Bundesliga veteran for many years, was the first to contest the notion that Donovan came up short in Germany yet again.
"It's really no reflection on Landon," Sanneh said last week. "Landon went to play for one of the top five teams in the world. They're in a situation where they have the starting striker for Italy, their best player [Luca Toni]. Then there's the guy who set the record for goals at a World Cup for Germany [Miroslav Klose]. And they just bought Croatia's top striker [Ivica Olic]. That was the pecking order and those guys were there, and they don't have to fly overseas. That team's not going to spend that kind of money on him to be a fourth striker."
Another veteran of European soccer now with the Galaxy, Eddie Lewis, noted that although Donovan would have liked to transfer to the German giants, he hasn't come back to L.A. acting like he'd rather be elsewhere.
"He's been amazing," Lewis said. "People had some concerns about hangover, but he's been flying around in training. He loves the group and the atmosphere. He's setting himself up for a really good season."
Sanneh even believes that ultimately, Donovan was better off not landing a Bayern contract. "I don't think that would have been a good situation for him," he said. "Look, Ronaldo was the starter for Brazil in the World Cup one year and in the [next] year, he was on the bench for AC Milan. So it's finding the team that needs you at the time. And that team just had no need for him. If he went to any other team in the league, he'd be a superstar."
The question is whether any other team would be willing to pony up the large transfer fee that buying out Donovan's MLS contract, which runs for two more years, would require. The striker was philosophical about the situation.
"I signed the contract and I have to honor it," Donovan said. "In an ideal world, would I like to be free? Sure, every player wants to be be free, because then you can do whatever you want. But this is the situation I'm in and I'll make the most of it."
Donovan has insisted that he didn't return to MLS and the Galaxy with any cloud of disappointment. "There's no letdown," he said. "I'm not bitter. I really had a good time there, but I'm also very excited to be here. I'm passionate about this team. It drives me crazy that we haven't been in the playoffs for three years and it's really frustrating. I see a different attitude that Bruce [Arena] has brought to this team and I want to be a part of it."
Last season, Donovan set for himself the goal of winning the Golden Boot as the league's top scorer, a distinction he never had achieved. He made good on that promise with 20 goals. This season, however, required a new aim.
"My two goals this year are to make the playoffs and to qualify for the World Cup," Donovan said. "I intend on reaching both of those."
While it may be an optimistic case of "love the one you're with," Donovan put his money where his mouth is on Sunday. And he intends to get better, admitting that his lack of regular playing time during his loan at Bayern set him back slightly upon his return to MLS.
"I did great in all the fitness tests at Bayern, but I didn't play enough games there and I didn't feel sharp, the way I normally do in a game," he said. "It's very hurtful to not be playing games."
The Galaxy need much more than Donovan's performance to turn around their fortunes, but the L.A. captain says he has taken players aside to explain game tactics, encouraging the young new arrivals and setting an example with other veteran players, showing he's willing to contribute more than just his actions on the field.
"I'm still going to push myself individually, but I'm going to do more to make this team better, which I didn't do enough of last year," he said.
Still, there's no denying that when it comes down to it, Donovan is the star the Galaxy count on to shine.
"He gives us something special going forward in the attack," said Lewis, who will captain the club while Donovan is gone on international duty. "It's always a benefit to have him back."
Andrea Canales is chief editor of Goal.com USA.