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Commentary Dec 28, 2016

LD rumors: Might Landon Donovan keep playing after all?

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Is Landon Donovan‘s comeback really over after nine games and barely two months?

That’s what the LA Galaxy said when their season ended in the Western Conference semifinals of the MLS playoffs last month. Though he declined to discuss his future after LA’s playoff loss to the Colorado Rapids, Donovan’s return from retirement was just doing a solid for his longtime club when the Galaxy found themselves shorthanded for the 2016 stretch run, according to LA executives.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,” Galaxy president Chris Klein told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

It all made plenty of sense. But at the time, I couldn’t help but notice that Donovan himself never actually, explicitly confirmed his decision firsthand, in the media or via a social-media post. That, too, isn’t all that out of the ordinary – Landon isn’t really a big tweeter, and media availabilities are few and far between once a team has played its last game of the season.

When Donovan’s name appeared on the list of players eligible for the MLS Expansion Draft a few weeks later, that too was easy to write off. Retired players aren’t specifically excised from such lists and Galaxy general manager Peter Vagenas again affirmed to the media that Donovan was not interested in coming back for 2017, even though Donovan is technically a free agent.

It’s harder to explain why Donovan paid a visit to Salt Lake City, home of the Galaxy’s West rivals Real Salt Lake, last week. Multiple sources tell me that the 34-year-old has been in touch with RSL, and appears to be mulling a blockbuster move to continue his comeback at a new club, despite his deep roots in SoCal.

“He has not made a public comment on his status,” a source close to Donovan confirmed on Wednesday, adding that “LD is enjoying the offseason and there is nothing to report” in regards to RSL or any other club.

At the moment, most of this is little more than rumor, and it’s far from clear how this will shake out. Donovan may well be exploring other opportunities that don’t involve prolonging one of the most decorated playing careers in U.S. soccer history. But we might well be seeing a lot more of him in 2017, and in a different place, than we thought.

While money is hardly likely to be one of the iconic star’s main concerns, it’s fairly clear that the Galaxy were not eager to pay him anything near what he made before his retirement. Sports Illustrated‘s Grant Wahl reported on Dec. 6 that LA did not offer Donovan a Designated Player contract for 2017. When he retired as an MLS Cup winner in 2014, he was making $4.58 million per year, according to MLS Players Union documents. The LA TimesKevin Baxter reported in September that Donovan was being paid $152,000 for his two-month comeback stint, a prorated salary equivalent to the MLS maximum for a non-DP, which adds up to $456,000 for a full season.

A move for Donovan might appear to be somewhat out of character for RSL, an organization with an extensive youth development system and well-established scouting links in Latin America. But Donovan is an old friend of influential Real veterans Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, and the Utah club are smarting from the recent departures of longtime playmaker Javier Morales and Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez, the talented attacker who sought and was granted an early exit from his DP contract to allow his homesick family to return to Argentina. RSL officials did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on the Donovan situation.

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