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Landon Donovan is returning to the LA Galaxy, ending a 21-month retirement to suit up for his Major League Soccer team for at least the rest of this season.
Donovan and the Galaxy announced his return Thursday with a video posted on social media showing Donovan putting on a No. 26 jersey, accompanied by a simple message: “He’s back.”
“I care so deeply about the Galaxy organization, and I believe I could help in a small way to aid the team in its quest for a sixth MLS championship,” Donovan wrote in a message on his Facebook page.
The 34-year-old Donovan is widely considered the most accomplished player in American soccer history and the most successful player in the history of the MLS, which named its MVP award after him.
Donovan retired in December 2014 after leading the Galaxy to the franchise’s fifth MLS Cup title, the record sixth championship of Donovan’s MLS career. He is the league’s career leader in goals (144), assists (136), game-winning goals (41) and playoff goals (25), among numerous superlatives.
Donovan wrote that he was persuaded to return after watching several key Galaxy players pick up injuries in recent weeks. The Galaxy have lost U.S. national team star Gyasi Zardes for the rest of the regular season, while Steven Gerrard and Jelle Van Damme are sidelined for shorter spells. Star defender Nigel de Jong also moved to Galatasaray in Turkey, and his abrupt departure inadvertently cleared a roster spot for Donovan.
“I have remained in close contact with many of the staff and players on the Galaxy,” wrote Donovan, who worked as a broadcaster for the team during his retirement. “They jokingly asked if I was ready to make a return to the field to help fill some of the void left by the injuries and departures.”
Although Donovan initially brushed off the notion, he said he “began to think” about a return after those conversations. He also craved the chance to play for the first time in front of his son, Talon. Donovan got married for the second time and had his first child during his retirement.
“I’ve always made decisions in life based on two guiding principles: My own happiness and the happiness of those I love and care about,” Donovan wrote. “Being on the field again, being able to help an organization that has meant so much to me and having my son in my arms after a game will undoubtedly make me and my loved ones happy. That’s all that matters.”
Donovan claimed he was thoroughly burned out on soccer when he retired at 32, eager to experience family life and an existence without the daily grind of sports. Earlier that year, Donovan was unexpectedly cut from the U.S. national team’s roster by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, denying him a trip to his fourth World Cup.
The Galaxy gave a fond farewell to Donovan less than two years ago, honoring him with lengthy retirement ceremonies. Donovan’s skills hadn’t appeared to decline significantly, but he brushed off suggestions he was retiring too soon.
Regardless of Donovan’s current skills after nearly two years without soccer, the Galaxy are a team in need of a boost. Although the star-studded club is a solid third in the Western Conference standings, the Galaxy are just 10-4-14, repeatedly failing to grab victories instead of draws in tight games.
Donovan will re-team with captain Robbie Keane and numerous players still left from his last team. He will also get his first chance to play with Liverpool great Gerrard and Mexican star Giovani Dos Santos, who both joined the Galaxy in 2015.
“I don’t think I need to tell anyone what Landon has accomplished in our sport,” said Bruce Arena, the Galaxy’s coach and general manager. “He’s truly been a great player. Now, Landon wishes to take on another challenge and I believe he has all the qualities necessary to be a player who can help the LA Galaxy in 2016.”