Forget all that chatter about Landon Donovan needing a few weeks to find the fitness necessary for MLS action. The LA Galaxy star saw a half-hour of action in Saturday's 2-2 draw at Toronto FC, after just three training sessions.
Donovan wasn't sharp and blew a chance to give the Galaxy a second-half lead in his first game after a four-month absence, but he had a lot of fun running around and says his best form isn't far away.
“I felt like I felt when I was a little kid today,” Donovan, said on club broadcaster Time Warner Cable's postgame show. “That's the feeling I want back. I was excited to be out there. I was engaged, I was aware and sort of in the moment, and enjoyed it.
“For the last while before that [last year], it hadn't been that way, so I'm very fortunate I was given this opportunity to clear my head, and now I'm excited to be back and help this team.”
Donovan figured he might be ready to go in early April, perhaps to contribute as LA takes on Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, but he made his season debut in the 61st minute, coming on up top for Jack McBean, and within seconds had a chance to break a 1-1 draw.
Marcelo Sarvas won a ball between midfield and Toronto's box and fed Mike Magee, who threaded a pass past four defenders to leave Donovan 1-on-1 in the box with Joe Bendik. Donovan's weak shot went directly to the TFC goalkeeper.
“Obviously, I want to play better. I didn't play well,” Donovan said. “But it was pretty interesting to get that first touch in front of the goal. Mike made a great pass, and I think within a week or two that's going to be a ball that's in the back of the net. It's going to take time. ... The only part I need now is the soccer part, and that's evident when I'm playing. Fitness-wise, I felt good. I just need sharpness now and more practice, and I should be back.”
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena told reporters the plan was to get Donovan 30 minutes in order to keep moving him toward full finess.
“Given the fact he's been off as long as he can, his performance was fine today,” Arena said. “But we're not judged by layoffs. He has to step up his game and [we need to] get him in training on a consistent basis, obviously get him more minutes, and start moving him back into the kind of form we expect Landon to be in.”
Donovan said he was “still in my preseason,” that he “gave away a lot of passes” and that his “touch wasn't great.”
OPTA CHALKBOARD: Chart Donovan's first game back
“It's one thing to do it when you're kind of hanging out on the training field,” he added. “But when you've got defenders on you and running at you, it's a different story. As the game went on, I felt a little more comfortable. And then the last piece [of a player's game to become sharp] usually is the piece in front of the goal, which obviously you saw wasn't there. It takes time, but you've got to play games to get that experience and get those minutes going.”
His teammates were happy to have him on the field. Defender Todd Dunivant, serving as LA's captain, handed Donovan the armband as soon as he entered, and several voiced their support after the game.
“It's great to have him back out there,” Magee said. “I think the more minutes we can get him earlier the better. He's obviously a guy who's so massive for our team, and any hopes we have to win championships, he's a guy we need.”