LA Notebook: Donovan plugging up holes for Galaxy

CARSON, Calif. — He’s a forward. No, he’s a midfielder. Or perhaps he’s a winger?

Sometimes, it’s tough to label exactly what Landon Donovan’s role is with the LA Galaxy. Team captain is about the only spot that he fills week in and week out.

In a win over FC Dallas, Donovan lined up as a midfielder. Prior to that, in a loss at Portland, he started at forward but moved into the midfield at halftime. And before that, he was in the midfield against Vancouver.

Despite his sometimes constant movement between forward and midfielder, it should no longer come as a surprise to even the most casual Galaxy observer.

“We’ve been doing that for three yearst,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena pointed out. "There’s absolutely nothing different. We’ve always been doing that."

There is a method to the madness, though. Neither Donovan nor Arena react to the opposing team, but rather decide on his positioning based on who is healthy or unavailable, in form or out of it.

“He helps fill holes that we have at times or he addresses other needs,” Arena said. “It just depends. We’ve had a shortage of bodies as well. You’ve got to move people around and that’s what unfortunately we’ve had to do the entire season.”

Against FC Dallas, Donovan slid into the midfield as Arena went with Adam Cristman and Mike Magee up top. Not only did that allow for a different-looking forward pair but it helped accommodate Donovan.

“Magee has played up there before and it’s a good position for him because I think Landon much prefers the midfield and Mike’s a good player,” Arena said.

Forward movement. In Magee and Cristman, Arena paired players who had not started together before. Cristman, in fact, had not started any of his previous four outings with the Galaxy, having come on as a substitute each time. Cristman helped give the Galaxy a different element up top.

“We wanted to go with him [on Saturday] to play against two very good center backs that Dallas has and I think he did a good job in battling and holding the ball for us,” Arena said.

Magee and Cristman produced one of the three Galaxy goals in the victory as Magee smashed a header into the back of the net late in the match. Magee started the season at forward, moved to the midfield out of necessity but did well for himself there and now is a bit like Donovan, moving between the two positions.

“He has a player like Adam next to him and it gives him a different type of role in terms of having the ability to pass and attack the box a little bit more,” Arena said. “I wanted to go with that pairing up top and change some things. Those two played well.”

The move to sit Juan Pablo Ángel — who started against Portland but lasted just 45 minutes — was not entirely based on the opponent’s back line.

“It had nothing to do with Dallas as much as we wanted to make some changes in our team to give us a little bit more energy in the attack,” Arena said. “That’s the decision I made based on what I’ve seen over the last couple of months.”

Ricketts recovering. Donovan Ricketts was not available to the Galaxy for most of June due to the Gold Cup, then promptly broke a bone in his forearm early in his return to the club, against San Jose on June 25.

While the big Jamaican has been cast-free for some time now and on the training field, he is not ready to come back yet.

“We’ve seen improvement,” Arena said. “I’m hopeful in the next month we see him back on the field.”

The rehabilitation process has gone slower than expected, perhaps because the initial timeline may not have suited the type of player Ricketts is.

“I think when he had the surgery, I’m not sure the doctor was aware of the fact that he was a goalkeeper and told us he’d be out maybe three weeks,” Arena said.

Ricketts the midfielder or Ricketts the center back may have already won his spot back, but since he’s Ricketts the goalkeeper, that has not happened.

“If he was a field player, he’d be playing for us right now,” Arena said. “But … he’s a goalkeeper. He’s going to have to get the strength back in his arm. He’s going to have to start having the confidence that he can deal with contact. We think in the next week or two he’ll start getting in the goal a little bit more.”