Landon Donovan returns to professional soccer this week following several months away, but his club is humming along without him thus far.CARSON, Calif. – Bruce Arena's answers to questions about Landon Donovan's sabbatical have grown increasingly testy as the U.S. international's return approaches.
The political dexterity Arena displayed upon the announcement of the extended break for the forward eroded quickly. It's now clear that Arena opposed the idea, probably strongly. And really, what sane MLS coach would welcome losing his captain?
Thus far, though, the absence hasn't hurt the Galaxy. Los Angeles hasn't lost yet in 2013, earning seven points from three games in Major League Soccer and advancing past Costa Rican side Herediano in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The Galaxy have scored four goals in two occasions.
The latest result, a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, came without Omar Gonzalez or Robbie Keane, the team's other Designated Player, because of international duty.
"I think it speaks testament to the guys on this team and the depth on this team, because we're obviously without Landon, without Robbie, without Omar, and didn't miss a beat," Todd Dunivant, captain for the day, said.
The goals have come from Mike Magee. He leads MLS, with four, including a penalty against Colorado. In the absence of Donovan and Keane, two teenagers staked their claims for increased minutes. Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal started against the Rapids, cranking off a total of 13 shots between them.
Obviously, finishing is an issue, but confidence is not.
"They're fearless," Dunivant said.
Donovan will link up with his club on Tuesday when the Galaxy visit the White House. He's "going to take some time" before he's ready to play a match, according to Arena. Given the results thus far, Arena can – begrudgingly, perhaps – afford Donovan time to recover game sharpness. Last year, when the Galaxy lost five of their opening 10 games before visiting the White House, Arena may not have found similar amounts of patience.
"It's good that these young players are at the point that we can count on them as well," Arena said.
The coach who may most fret Donovan's extended decompression time? Jurgen Klinsmann.
As the Galaxy press palms with Barack Obama, the U.S. national team will play a World Cup qualifier in Estadio Azteca. The last time that venue hosted the United States, Landon Donovan sweated through a half with swine flu on the way to a 1-0 friendly victory, the first-ever U.S. win on Mexican soil.
Donovan is the all-time leading scorer for the United States, but he's shown up only intermittently during Klinsmann's tenure. Largely without the 31-year-old, the United States scraped through the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, only securing progression on the last matchday.
In the Hexagonal, the Yanks capitulated in the sweltering heat against Honduras, conceding twice late to lose 2-1. Though a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in several inches of snow on Friday put qualifying back on track, Klinsmann's offense has ground through the gears in ways that suggest a short lifespan for the clutch.
The latest pictures of the U.S. team involved a snow-fro on Jermaine Jones and flakes sticking in the eyelashes of his teammates. The last snaps of Donovan showed him playing – barefoot and topless – in a pickup game in Cambodia.
The next World Cup qualifiers aren't until June. But of the two coaches looking at those pictures and wishing they could pull a jersey on Donovan's sinewy torso, Klinsmann's predicament may be the more demanding.
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