CARSON, Calif. – A couple of days ago, Landon Donovan didn't believe his ailing hamstring would permit him to feature in Sunday's second leg of the Western Conference Championship in Seattle, and if this were a regular-season game with little at stake, he wouldn't be in the LA Galaxy's plans.
A little rest and a good deal of treatment has him thinking otherwise, and now he's “optimistic” that he can help prod LA to another MLS Cup final ahead of Sunday's matchup (9 pm ET, ESPN; TSN2/RDS2 in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Donovan “started exercising again” Friday and said although his right hamstring, hurt near the end of the Galaxy's 3-0 victory in last weekend's first leg, is “not in perfect shape,” he hopes it's good enough to carry him through a vital match.
“I think if you would have asked me [after the first leg] Sunday, I would have said there's very little chance, but now I'm a lot more optimistic,” Donovan told media after Friday's training session at the Home Depot Center. “We're going to take it day by day, see how it goes. ... We'll see how much I can do tomorrow, and the hope is Sunday I'll be able to go.”
Head coach Bruce Arena says he's hopeful midfielder Juninho, who departed last weekend's game at halftime with inflammation of his right Achilles' tendon, and forward Edson Buddle, who missed the match with left plantar inflammation, also will be able to play. All three players are listed as questionable on MLS' injury report.
“They're all making great progress,” Arena said. “So we're optimistic. We're not going to make any final decisions with our team until Sunday.”
Juninho said he was making “good progress. I have time [before the game], two more days, and I hope I'll be better for the game.”
The Brazilian ran on the sidelines and took part in passing exercises Friday. Buddle, who declined to speak to media, was present during the training session, but the team didn't comment on his status, which is listed as "questionable" on Friday's injury report.
If Juninho cannot play, Marcelo Sarvas likely steps in next to David Beckham in central midfield. Jose Villarreal is the best bet to accompany Robbie Keane up front if Buddle and Donovan aren't available.
There's also a cold going through the Galaxy camp; Donovan and Beckham were dealing with it Friday.
Donovan said he'd likely be rested if the game weren't so important.
“If it was game 12 in the season and we wanted to be cautious, we would probably not play me,” he said. “But given the circumstances and, honestly, given how [the hamstring has] reacted, there's a much better chance of playing than I thought.”
Holding him back for the Dec. 1 MLS Cup final doesn't make sense, he says.
“I've been a part of too many soccer games to know that anything can happen,” Donovan said. “If we say, 'Let's play it safe,' and not play myself or Juni or Edson – or anybody – you might be out of it, and the season's over. I would much rather put myself on the line a little bit, make sure we advance, and you can worry about the rest later as opposed to hoping that we get through the series.”