Landon Donovan to the San Jose Earthquakes? This must truly be the silly season. But what if...
The string of season-ending tributes to Donovan in 2014 following his announcement that he would retire was a celebration worthy of the first true star of American soccer. The most prolific goal scorer in MLS history was hanging up his boots, and for those months, the LA Galaxy talisman enjoyed adulation at visiting stadiums around the league. He was only 32 years old, but he was walking away from the game while still at the top of his own.
Then, perhaps hearing the siren’s call of competition, Donovan laced them up again for a curtain call with the Galaxy at the tail end of last season. He added another goal to his record haul, extending the mark to 145, but his efforts were not enough to push LA forward in the MLS Cup Playoffs, and the Galaxy were dumped from the postseason by the Colorado Rapids.
Back in the game, but not a part of the Galaxy’s plans moving forward, Donovan reportedly set out to find another MLS adventure in 2017, this time with Real Salt Lake. Many pegged the deal has close to completion, by Grant Wahl rained on that parade with a report that Donovan will not be joining RSL. The man that the league named it’s MVP award after was still a free agent after all.
Perhaps Salt Lake was not the best fit for LD, and the Galaxy legend might want to consider another landing spot. Maybe old friend San Jose could open its doors for its prodigal son and wipe away the years of animosity that built up upon his unceremonious departure from the Earthquakes back in 2004.
Donovan began his MLS career with the Quakes as a precocious 19-year-old, on loan from his German club Bayer Leverkusen, and helped San Jose to its first MLS Cup in 2001. He won the cup again in 2003, capturing the Bay Area soccer scene like no other player had to that point. But the Southern California native yearned to be home, and some clever engineering landed Donovan back in LA in time for the 2005 season. He went on to win MLS Cup that season, as well as three more, with the rival Galaxy.
Earthquakes supporters were furious at the turn of events, dubbing their once hero a “Judas” and infamously hanging a pinata effigy of Donovan at the tailgate ahead of his California Clasico return to San Jose that season. Still young, and certainly not accustomed to the fickle mood of sports fan loyalists, LD was taken aback by the reception, and the Quakes went on to a 3-0 victory. It fueled him, and with San Jose ever becoming a distant memory, he established himself as a Galaxy icon.
But now the former Quakes star is back on the market, contemplating whether to continue his comeback or move more permanently into broadcasting. He still has something to offer on the field, if his play with Galaxy last year is any indication, but ignoring for a moment the questions of how Donovan would fit in with the Quakes, would fans ever forgive him and welcome him back?
LD is already the epitome of the LA/San Jose rivalry — good try Alan Gordon — so a full-circle move back to the club that welcomed him in 16 years ago paints a juicy narrative. For the sheer spectacle of watching him, wearing blue and black, taking it to the Galaxy, it would be totally worth it to welcome Donovan back to the Earthquakes. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore the allure of the Return of Landon Donovan.