Why Isn’t Landon Donovan Playing More?

Landon Donovan came in as a second-half sub for Club León on Tuesday night as the American continued his second comeback from retirement. He played about 30 minutes for the Liga MX side in a 4-1 win over second-tier Cafetaleros in Copa MX action. It was his second appearance in 10 León matches since announcing his return to football in January, which begs the question: Is he still getting back to match fitness or was his signing purely a publicity stunt?

Landon Donovan, arguably the greatest men’s player the U.S. has ever produced, made his Liga MX debut at the age of 35 on Feb. 10 in a 2-1 win over Puebla. He was an 83rd-minute sub and showed plenty of rust, at one point sending a pass straight out of bounds with no teammate (or opponent) anywhere nearby.

That appearance came in León’s seventh match after it announced the Donovan signing. While it would have been impractical to expect Donovan to play on Jan. 13, one day after his announcement, there have been ample opportunities for La Fiera to play the American. Instead, Donovan has been left on the bench on a number of occasions, including the last two Liga MX matches. 

Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan for Leon against Cafetaleros. Photo: @_romerodeportes | Twitter

On Feb. 14, León lost 5-1 at Santos. The match was effectively over at halftime, with the home side up 4-1. Nonetheless, León coach Gustavo Diaz opted not to give his new signing some much-needed playing time. Three days later against Querétaro, La Fiera found themselves a man up for 70 minutes. Despite needing a goal in a 1-1 match, Diaz didn’t even use his final sub, again leaving Donovan on the bench. 

When Donovan finally got another chance to play on Tuesday, he performed well — much better than his rusty debut 10 days earlier. Moments after entering the pitch he launched a 25-yard volley that went just wide. He had another chance to do something at the top of the box in the 75th minute, though a poor first touch meant he had to pass the ball along out wide instead of taking it toward goal. He also drew a yellow card in the final minutes.

The comprehensive victory put León in first place a point ahead of Cafetaleros in their Copa MX group and ensured Donovan’s club will reach the Round of 16. 

Landon Donovan made his training debut with León on Jan. 22. Since then, the club has played seven matches. By Saturday, León will have completed a busy February, with seven matches in a three-week span. And yet the American has played for less than 40 minutes thus far. 

One would expect if Donovan was thinking about a comeback he was doing some sort of training on his own to prepare his body, although it’s unrealistic to expect him to immediately jump into the lineup. But after a number of matches in which he was left on the bench, it’s hard not to wonder whether Diaz wants Donovan on his squad or León just signed him to sell some jerseys. Or, maybe Donovan just isn’t good enough anymore. 

It is still early in the Donovan-León experiment. He only made six appearances in his last comeback with the LA Galaxy in 2016, so he’s already a third of the way to that total. But we’d like to see him play more, just to see if the old man’s still got it.

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