What started as a whisper over the weekend gained traction on Monday when Club Leon of Mexico took to Twitter to tease the return of Landon Donovan to the San Jose Earthquakes. Could it possibly be that, after just a few weeks into his comeback with the Liga MX side, the U.S. national team legend and most polarizing figure in the Quakes history was set to join the team where his professional career began?
Oh, Leon: clever, clever. In what was the perfect play on MLS fans across social media, especially those in the Bay Area, the Mexican club was cryptically hyping an upcoming friendly in San Jose. Sure enough, the Earthquakes soon announced that they would host Club Leon in a friendly at Avaya Stadium on March 24, in the middle of the upcoming FIFA international break and a weekend both teams had a bye in their league schedules.
“Hi guys!” Donovan in a video posted on Twitter. “I hope you have the opportunity to come and watch us play on the 24th of March. I should be a lot of fun. Club Leon, my new team, who would have thought it, playing the San Jose Earthquakes. I hope to see a lot of you there. Excited to get back there, and hopefully we will see you then.”
Donovan featured for the Earthquakes in his first four professional seasons, helping San Jose win the 2001 MLS Cup when he was just a rookie and two years later the club’s second championship. During his time with the Quakes, the flashy forward scored 32 goals and notched 29 assists. He currently holds the MLS record for most goals with 145, 11 more than Earthquakes captain Chris Wondolowski, who is aiming to pass the legend for league’s all-time scoring title sometime this season. Donovan made his debut with Club Leon this past Saturday, entering the match in the 83rd minute in their 2-1 victory against Puebla.
”This will be the first time in club history that we will play Club Leon in any competition, and the first time that former Earthquakes player and soccer legend Landon Donovan will play at Avaya Stadium,” said Earthquakes President Tom Fox in a statement released by the club. “We have hosted some great international opponents during the past years, and this match is poised to be extra special.”
But what reception will Donovan get? He certainly has heard jeers throughout the years from Quakes fans following his orchestrated departure from the club following the 2004 season. The Southern California native famously wanted to play closer to home, and via a short stint back with Bayer Leverkusen — he had been on loan to San Jose from the German club for those four seasons — he returned to MLS and signed with the LA Galaxy. Donovan helped his new side win MLS Cup later that year.
Earthquakes fans at the time were, understandably, livid, and Donovan quickly became public enemy #1 in San Jose. He was called “Judas,” and a pinata in his likeness was battered in tailgate parties outside Spartan Stadium on his first visit back to his former home. The franchise was moved to Houston later that year, compounding the overall bitterness among Quakes supporters, and the Galaxy forward was swept up in the discontent.
Never forget, was the mantra, and when San Jose returned to MLS in 2008, Donovan was still the man that Quakes fans loved to hate. Every time since then when he has played in the Bay Area, he has been roundly booed. More of the same will likely be shouted from the Avaya Stadium bleachers on March 24.
Oh man, we need to be certain LD gets the reception he deserves!— Quakes-JD (@JDMcCall1) February 12, 2018
Is it time to let go of the hate? Through the lens of perspective, without the exploits of Donovan in both the 2001 and 2003 MLS Cup finals, the Earthquakes might not have those two silver stars above their crest, the two Alan I. Rothenberg trophies gleaming in the club’s trophy case. He was the difference maker for San Jose in both games, scoring the equalizer in 2001 against LA in a 2-1 victory, and knocking in two goals in 2003 against the Chicago Fire in a 4-2 triumph. Quakes Hall of Fame goalkeeper Joe Cannon, his teammate for the 2001 championship, has no doubt that without Donovan, they don’t win those championships.
Through the years, a growing number of Earthquakes supporters have succumbed to reason and greeted Donovan with civility, even some polite applause, when he laced them up in the Bay Area. The upcoming March 24 friendly, while not officially a Landon Donovan testimonial match, does provide fans a chance to show their appreciation for a man whose exploits will forever be woven in the fabric of the club.
Hometown hero Wondolowski, the likely successor to Donovan as MLS goal scoring king, has always looked up to him, even respected him, and will certainly welcome the opportunity to play against him once again. Perhaps fans, upon recognizing the moment when he steps out on the Avaya Stadium pitch, will show the same warmth.
What will your reaction be when Landon Donovan takes the field in his return to San Jose?
This poll is closed
Vociferous and vehement vitriol!
Who? I’ll be busy at the LOBINA