The Los Angeles Galaxy may have lost the face of Major League Soccer with David Beckham's departure, but they will not be losing the face of their franchise. According to the Los Angeles Times' Jim Peltz, longtime Galaxy and Team USA star Landon Donovan will return for his ninth season with the outfit.
Donovan had been considering retirement following a fantastic season that culminated in Los Angeles' second straight MLS Cup. It's unclear when Donovan will report to Galaxy camp, according to coach Bruce Arena, as he's still recovering from a grueling 2012 season.
"He just needs a little bit more time off," Arena said (per the Los Angeles Times). "He's had a couple of years that have taken their toll."
Obviously, this is a huge development for the Galaxy. Though most assumed that Donovan would ultimately return, his flirtation with retirement put the team's three-peat in big-time jeopardy. By returning, Donovan should help keep the worries about a post-championship nosedive to a minimum.
But returning to the Galaxy will likely prove to be a great move for Donovan as well.
First of all, Donovan still has a ton left in his 30-year-old tank. Even though he played through just about the entire 2012 calendar year, Donovan scored 11 goals and dished out an MLS-high 16 assists.
He won't be nearly as exhausted this season. Unlike 2012, Donovan did not go on loan to the English Premier League, meaning he should have fresh legs by the time the MLS season starts. And with Beckham departing, Donovan will likely get the chance to be the unquestioned face of a championship contender again.
Beckham's departure may keep the Galaxy from getting as many headlines, but they should survive his loss just fine on the pitch. The 37-year-old Englishman was mostly a secondary player in Los Angeles, serving more as a token of the MLS' relevance than the player who was once (arguably) the best in the world.
The Galaxy are also working on adding a notable replacement. Frank Lampard reportedly has a deal "all but done" to head to Southern California, and he would provide no less than Beckham did last season, without the fuss.
That would put Los Angeles squarely in three-peat territory—something that has to be intriguing for Donovan.
The only (relatively) logical reason for Donovan to retire would be if he no longer felt challenged by the MLS. He has spent multiple stints with Everton of the Premier League in the past, and it's wholly possible that playing stateside is no longer satiating his legendary competitiveness.
"I've struggled with motivation at many points in my career," Donovan told ESPN last October. "I've had times where it all came easily but there have been stretches where I have questioned it."
Even if that's true, retiring wouldn't suddenly make Donovan a regular in the Premiership. Transfer rules still apply, and the Galaxy have made it very clear they want their star to honor his commitment through 2013. Meanwhile, Premier League teams haven't exactly lined up to make Los Angeles an offer it couldn't refuse.
Donovan is a solid-enough player over in England, but the Premier League will go on just fine without him. Even when his contract ends after the 2013 season, Donovan will be 31, and any possible deal would likely be a short one.
The MLS provides an opportunity for Donovan to be a superstar well into his mid-30s if he chooses—even if it's in a second-tier league.
If Donovan still loves lining up at the pitch, he's better off staying in the MLS where he's revered. He will likely go down as the best player in league history and has established himself as arguably the most decorated star in United States soccer history as well.
The Premier League is the best in the world and retirement may be relaxing, but Los Angeles (and MLS) is where Donovan belongs.