CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan's decision not to return to the LA Galaxy until the end of March, nearly a month into the 2013 season, is hardly ideal, but his teammates are happy to oblige.
It means they'll be far from full strength when they open March 3 against Chicago, but a happy, rested Donovan – whenever he might turn up – is better than a burnt-out Donovan, like the one who embarked on an extended leave of absence following last year's MLS Cup title triumph.
“Of course, it's difficult when you're having one of your best players [missing], so of course you want him here at the start of the season,” forward Robbie Keane told reporters following the Galaxy's training session Monday at the Home Depot Center. “But if the extra two weeks are going to do him a world of good, well, then ... good.”
The Galaxy announced Sunday that Donovan would report to camp the final week of March, after about five more weeks away, and head coach Bruce Arena acknowledged he was surprised the date was so late.
“Sure, it could be earlier,” he said, “but it is what it is. It will just set him behind the group by a couple of months. ... Am I unhappy about it? No, I'm not unhappy. Whether I think it's unnecessary or not is probably not important, what I think here. That's the player, how he feels and what he thinks he needs. It'll set him back. He comes back at the end of March, he'll probably be playing somewhere close to the end of April.”
Donovan figures to miss about a half-dozen or so league matches, should he return April 20 against Sporting Kansas City or a week later at Real Salt Lake. He'll also be away for the Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matches next month against Costa Rica's Herediano and likely would not be available until the championship home-and-home, on April 24 and May 1, should the Galaxy get that far.
Defender Todd Dunivant said the team was “excited” to learn when Donovan would return, that they're happy to “know that he's going to get his rest and everything he needs and he'll come back fresh and ready to go.”
“To give him an extra month or two,” Dunivant said, “is certainly going to be a good investment for us.”
Mike Magee appears likely to be paired up top with Keane, who returned to training Monday after nearly a week in Ireland following a death in his family, to start the season, with Jose Villarreal perhaps sharing some of the burden when he returns from the CONCACAF Under-20 World Cup qualifiers. Not having Donovan will make a difference.
“The more high-quality players you put on the field for your team, the chances are you're going to be a better team, that they'll offer different dimensions,” Arena said. “When you take one of those pieces away, you're not going to replace him with similar players. That's the facts of life. ... You always play games without key players. It won't be the first time, and it won't be the last time.”
“I think you see the difference [when Donovan is away] on any team he plays for, whether it's the national team or the Galaxy or wherever,” he said. “He's so dynamic, he's a difference-maker, he makes big plays, he puts defenses on their heels, he's good in every aspect of the game and is an attacking force. Without him, you lose some of that.”