OK, it wasn’t the first resignation by a sitting Pope in six centuries, or the astonishing appearance, in the skies over industrial Siberia, of a 10-ton meteor that exploded with the force of an atomic bomb, but Major League Soccer had some eye-catching news of its own this week.
There was the announcement by a former (and future?) member of the league that he’s stepping away from the game at the age of 25 – and that he’s gay.
Robbie Rogers now has the opportunity, if he chooses to resume his career, to become the first gay male pro athlete in North America to acknowledge his orientation while still active. That could have an asteroid-like impact (for the better) on the sporting and cultural landscape.
There was also – speaking of bright lights in the galaxy – some solid information about Landon Donovan and his career status.
The LA Galaxy announced that Donovan will return to training with the club during the final week of March, reviving waves of commentary that his sabbatical selfishly put his needs ahead of those of the team that pays his salary, as well as equal amounts – at least – of pushback saying that Donovan has earned the right to take a break on his own terms.
So which is it? Is LD giving LA (and the USMNT) a raw deal, or does he deserve to set the terms of his career hiatus?
Here are four elements to consider:
R-n-R vs. Retirement
WATCH: Donovan reacts to MLS Cup win
Now that his team has given a firm date for his return, it’s important to remember that when he first mentioned his case of burnout, Donovan hinted at retiring altogether.
Galaxy and US national team fans immediately started picturing a future without him, and most of them didn’t enjoy the picture. So his coming back alone should be cause for relief, if not joy, among fans of his two teams.
Yes, he’s going to miss a few MLS regular-season games, a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal and the March US World Cup qualifiers, but the best American player of all time is officially going to resume his career. That’s good news for LA and US fans.
As for US fans’ disappointment that he won’t be playing in the March qualifiers, well, they had to know already that that was unlikely.
Donovan would have been hard pressed to be ready for World Cup qualifying competition by March 22, even if he’d resumed training this past weekend.
WATCH: Galaxy preview match vs. Tijuana
That would have given him roughly five weeks to prepare, essentially from scratch, for a high-stakes qualifier at home against a quality Costa Rica side – not to mention the cauldron of Azteca four days later.
He might have been able to pull that off, but it would have been tight, to say the least. And there was no indication that Donovan was about to show up at the HDC this past weekend, when the Galaxy battled Korean side Gangwon FC to a 0-0 draw.
So the hourglass was all but drained on those March games already. This announcement didn’t change Donovan’s short-term timetable with the national team much, if at all.
Special Player, Special Privileges
Former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, once said that special players earn special treatment. That decidedly un-Lombardi-like sentiment has probably always been true, and it definitely applies in the Donovan case.
He has done more for the US national team and for MLS than any other American player ever. Both the stats and Donovan’s off-field Q rating back this up. He’s the all-time leader in goals and assists for the US; he’s scored more World Cup goals than any other American; and he’s won five titles in MLS, proving his ability in the clutch by topping the league’s all-time playoff scoring list. (He’s also third all-time – and still counting, thanks to this announcement – on the league’s regular-season goals list.)
You could argue that he’s earned the right to do this on his terms, but beyond that, he’s simply gained the leverage to do it.
The Galaxy’s options were more limited than Donovan’s here. They weren’t going to risk alienating such a valuable player as long as there was a chance to bring him back into the fold.
And now here he comes, back into the fold at the end of next month.
Despite all of the clamor to the contrary, Donovan has been pretty clear, straightforward, and low-key about his situation.
He said he needed a break, he took one, and he hasn’t once appeared in the public eye while on his sabbatical (save for a benefit appearance in Newtown, Conn.).
And now he’s coming back.
He hasn’t waffled all that much … yet.
But now that he’s played his “I need a break” card, Donovan won’t get another one until after Brazil 2014 at the earliest.
So the question remains, is he sure he’s ready to come back? Is he fully committed to maximizing the rest of his career? What happens when his LA contract runs out at the end of 2013?
The answers to those questions lie in the next chapter of his storied career, starting this spring.