According to ESPN, Real Salt Lake and another team from the MLS Eastern Conference have entered discussions with Landon Donovan over the 34-year-old continuing his career in 2017.
Donovan made a shock return for the LA Galaxy in 2016, appearing in nine matches for a Los Angeles squad that had been left depleted in attack following a serious injury to Gyasi Zardes and the questionable fitness of Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard.
Donovan’s return was, in many ways, just a club legend doing his boys a solid. Donovan believed he could still make an impact, albeit a nominal one, while enjoying himself and getting the opportunity to be with his son, Talon, on the pitch after a match.
He wanted to help out. In the hyper competitive world of viewing professional sports, and with his reputation as four-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, this sort of rational humility was used against him by the sorts of people that will brandish anything and everything against Donovan’s storied career.
Tallying 456 minutes (just over five full matches), Donovan scored a solitary goal and registered a hockey assist. Like he’d said he would, the Southern California native simply lent a hand while enjoying himself on the pitch.
It’s useless using Donovan’s 2016 appearances as a gage for what he might be able to accomplish throughout an entire MLS season. The six-time MLS Cup champion is undoubtedly still one of the fittest players in the league, but fitness doesn’t equate being able to compete at the highest level.
Donovan will turn 35 in March, putting him in a small bracket of footballers to continue to play at that age, particularly players of his skill set and position.
Outfield players that thrive at this age typically fall into one of the following three positions: defender, striker or deep-lying playmaker. The likes of Rafa Marquez, Antonio Di Natale, Raul and Andrea Pirlo have defied the expectations of age to play deep into their 30s, and even 40s, but Donovan has never mirrored their qualities.
For Donovan, the only real successful contemporaries would be the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Ryan Giggs and Francesco Totti. Donovan is not as talented as these three, but he’s also not trying to play in the EPL or Serie A.
However, like these three, Donovan is extremely versatile. He can play as a secondary striker, right wing or left wing while offering an exceptional work rate and tactical know-how. For many MLS clubs, that’s enough.
He won’t be among the league leaders in goals, assists, key passes or successful dribbles like in his heyday, but he could bring balance to a squad in a league that ultimately rewards clubs that can find it — just look at the last two MLS Cup champions.
Donovan might be the best utility player available, should he so choose to accept an offer. While analysts will dissect every match with the angle of “Should he be called up to the USMNT?” or “Could he make the 2018 World Cup squad?”, perhaps his decision to play somewhere like Salt Lake rather than Los Angeles is an indicator of his desire to simply enjoy his football and avoid that inevitable noise.