SPORTS

Landon Donovan's return could help LA Galaxy - and the MLS as a whole

Real Salt Lake forward Juan Martinez, left, battles Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan, right, for the ball during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Real Salt Lake forward Juan Martinez, left, battles Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan, right, for the ball during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)  (2016)

If you were expecting someone who could bend steel with his bare feet or leap defenders in a single bound to score a miracle goal, then you're bound to be disappointed.

But Landon Donovan doesn't haven't to do that sort of stuff anymore in his so far brief comeback with the Los Angeles Galaxy. But the seasoned veteran has helped the team win two consecutive playoff matches in its quest to secure its sixth MLS Cup.

When Donovan announced in September that he would un-retire and to help his former team, there were plenty of skeptics. But after a few games, he scored a goal coming in as a reserve in a victory over Sporting Kansas City, and has worked himself back into shape to start.

The Galaxy head into the second leg of its Western Conference semifinal series on Sunday against the favored Colorado Rapids with a 1-0 advantage.

On a team that boasts the likes of Mexican standout Giovani dos Santos and Ireland international Robbie Keane and former English international midfielder Steven Gerrard, when they're healthy, the Galaxy doesn't necessarily need Donovan to fill the net on a regular basis.

Coach Bruce Arena knows that.

“He was good – good and solid," he said. “His passing was very good. He was in good spots defensively. I think his ability to help us keep the ball, hold on to the ball, make the pass at the right times are important. It gives us a little bit of a breather and allows us to collect our team and get forward in the attack. He’s done a real good job for us.”

Take what transpired in the Galaxy’s 2-2 draw at Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 18. With LA trailing 2-1 in the 74th minute, Donovan replaced Raul Mendiola. The Children's Mercy Park crowd chanted "AARP!"  mercilessly on the 34-year-old soccer legend.

Two minutes later, it was Donovan’s turn to show no mercy, reminding the soccer world he can still produce magic, connecting for the equalizer.

“Listen, I have an eight-month-old at home. Diapers are expensive," Donovan said after that game. "I wish I was getting the benefits of AARP right now, but I think they probably realized I might have a little more time left in me, this old guy.”

Perhaps a lot more left, which can only be good for the Galaxy, and good for the league.

After all, how many times does your greatest star retire, return for more and change the course of a season?

Heck, Donovan pulled off what many observers previously believed to be impossible: He got U.S. national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann – who left him off the 2014 U.S. World Cup team, leading to Donovan’s acrimonious retirement from international soccer – and MLS commissioner Don Garber, who has waged a war of words with Klinsmann for years, to agree on something.

They agreed that Donovan's return was good for the game.

"I think it's pretty cool that Landon is back on the field," Klinsmann said in September on Facebook. "He just wants to give it another shot. So, obviously, he's been gone for quite a while. Coming back is not going to be easy for him, but with the experience of Bruce Arena at the Galaxy, I'm sure that they're going to time him the right way and build him the right way towards the playoffs.”

Garber's take?

“I think it’s exciting,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I thought Jürgen’s quote was a really good one, where he basically said you’re not going to be playing forever."

He added, "I’m happy for [Donovan]. I hope it’s successful – a good decision. Let’s see how it all plays out. We certainly got a lot of attention. That’s not a bad thing for us.”

The most famous comeback was made by the great Pelé, who at 34 returned in 1975 after a 19-year career with Santos in Brazil. He was lured by the New York Cosmos for millions of dollars and the opportunity to transform the game in the United States.

In three seasons, Pelé dazzled packed houses with his skill, vision and beautiful play. He helped the Cosmos win the 1977 North American Soccer League championship, and, more importantly, he helped create a soccer boom, the effects of which we are still feeling today.

Donovan is one of the children of that boom.

Who knows? He just might spark another one.