It's news that satisfies no one, save perhaps Landon Donovan himself, but the erstwhile L.A. Galaxy and USMNT midfielder now has an estimated time of arrival back into the American soccer scene. Per a club release Sunday, the Galaxy expect Donovan to return to training in late March:
"After a series of collaborative discussions between Landon, his representative and our key club leaders, we have agreed to allow Landon to remain on an extended leave of absence and return to training with the team during the final week of March," Galaxy general manager and head coach Bruce Arena said. "We understand this arrangement is not ideal, but we are confident it will allow Landon the time he needs to be both mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming season. We remain focused on our preparation for the start of the 2013 season and look forward to Landon rejoining us next month."
Arena's statement makes the discussions surrounding Donovan's return date sound more like nuclear disarmament talks than the simple decision on when a 30-year old player might end his sabbatical and go back to the full-time job he's paid seven figures to do.
That's not to minimize the importance of Donovan to both the Galaxy and the USMNT. He's incredibly important to the former and somewhat important to the latter depending on how much we believe Jurgen Klinsmann's problems stem from Donovan's absence. Too bad then, that the announcement puts his return nowhere near "imminent" with the start of the MLS season in two weeks and the renewal of Hex hostilities for the USMNT restarting just as Donovan will be trying to regain some measure of fitness.
Beyond MLS, the Galaxy will have to take on Herendiano in the CONCACAF Champions League without their captain and star. Klinsmann will have to wait until June at the earliest to have Donovan at his disposal, because the Costa Rica and Mexico matches coincide with Donovan's return to training.
That's assuming Donovan intends to make himself available to Klinsmann in June and beyond. Sunil Gulati hinted, after having dinner with Donovan before the Hex opener in Honduras, that Donovan could return to the Galaxy but retire from international duty. A decision to quit the national team would allow Donovan to continue playing without the stress of travel abroad and the weight of USMNT expectations. It would also further damage Donovan's reputation with American fans and reinforce the belief that he lacks the drive of a top player. All indications are that Donovan hasn't given that possibility any thought.
The tone of the announcement indicates the Galaxy finally pushed Donovan for an ETA after humoring his need for an extended break after the 2012 season. Frustration boiled over, and the club demanded to know when Donovan would again grace the club with his presence because his contributions -- or lack thereof -- directly impact the club's strategy on three different competitive fronts.
That the date of his arrival is five weeks from now is a clear indication that Donovan still is not ready to play soccer but knows he will want to eventually. The Galaxy are now definitely shorthanded through the first month-plus of the season and in the CONCACAF Champions League, and the USMNT won't have its most decorated player in two crucial qualifiers at the very least. The U.S. will go to Azteca for a game that matters, and Donovan likely won't be there.
But there's a date now, and that's something. Even if it's a something that will only satisfy Landon himself. And maybe Mexico.