While the Galaxy will survive just fine without the U.S. international, Donovan may have some explaining to do when he finally takes the field again.
And as wonderful as that hazy reality may look to him right now, it is an untenable one for his putative employers. Even the reigning two-time champions cannot afford to leave a place on hold for him without any semblance of a time line or a confirmation that such a progression even exists.
Fortunately for the Galaxy, Donovan decided to place one loose stricture on the length of his indeterminate journey: he will return at some point this season.
Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena revealed that modest and unsatisfying morsel after the start of Galaxy training camp on Monday. Arena said all of the right things about how he believed Donovan would return all along and how veteran players need less time to prepare for a campaign they know all too well at this stage of their careers.
None of those perfectly defensible and mildly informative statements included any sort of concrete notion of when Donovan would return. Why? No one knows, perhaps not even Donovan. Or no one who knows wishes to make the date public right now.
“We haven't narrowed it down yet,” Arena told reporters on the scene. “We'll wait and see. We haven't firmly established a return date yet.”
Truth be told, the exact date doesn't matter too much to the Galaxy, either. Now that Donovan has committed to returning at some stage, the holders can proceed with their business.
If Donovan decides he wants to start the season on time, all the better. It isn't some defining choice, though. As the trials of last year showed, the first half of the season – and, yes, even the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals – matters little in the grand scheme of things down in Carson, Calif. Early success is helpful and welcome, but it is not mandatory in a world where success means winning MLS Cup.
By the time the business end of the season rolls around and the pursuit of another title commences in earnest, Donovan should take his place alongside Robbie Keane and a third Designated Player (identity yet to be determined, but presumably still forthcoming) to mount yet another MLS Cup challenge. The longtime star will likely exhibit more than enough sharpness to fuel the Galaxy's ambitions. Even if he returns at something less than his best, he will prove plenty good enough to help fuel yet another title defense.
At this point, Donovan's primary concerns probably lay off the field. No player – not even a player with his cachet and his station – can engage in this sort of gambit without some fallout. No explanation – not even the modest justification offered by a hectic schedule over the past few years and a significant burden shouldered during his career – can justify leaving club and international teammates in the lurch for an extended spell without any resolution in sight.
It isn't an easy situation to rectify, either. Some of those folks may count the days he missed and wait for him to explain why. Jürgen Klinsmann probably wants a word or two about the cavalier way Donovan has approached national team duty recently before he decides whether to include him in future squads. A few players at the top level might even wonder whether the group could survive without him in a World Cup setting, even if his talent – assuming his form returns – all but mandates his inclusion.
Those questions may or may not float through Donovan's mind as he continues his sabbatical. Perhaps they are a bit too tangible to ponder during his separation from the game. But the time will likely come when the finer points will matter a great deal once again. Only then can he truly determine whether his decision to eschew them for a while produced the results he required.
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