Liga MX: Will Landon Donovan star or flop in his return to football with Leon?
Landon Donovan's decision to come out of retirement at age 35 and play for Club Leon of Liga MX was met with all sorts of surprise and skepticism.
As a result, this week we asked our Liga MX correspondents Tom Marshall, Nayib Moran and Eric Gomez to assess Donovan's chances to succeed in Liga MX and ultimately, predict whether he stars or flops at Leon. Here are their answers:
What does success look like for Landon Donovan at Club Leon? If fans expect a Donovan in his prime flying around the field, starting every game and being the leading goalscorer then the 35-year-old's move to Mexico is doomed for failure.
But after 14 months without a competitive game and no consistent playing time since 2014, the measuring stick for Donovan at Leon has to be put into that perspective. Donovan's role will be that of an impact sub charged with making things happen when the team is down.
Can he do that? The answer has to be yes. Donovan will continue to be a very intelligent and technical player and will link in seamlessly with the rest of his Leon teammates. It's a league that fits his style. And Liga MX isn't exactly void of older, wiser players that use their experience and game intelligence to succeed. Sinha retired aged 40 last year; Christian "Chaco" Gimenez, 36, just moved between two of Mexico's bigger clubs; Rafa Marquez continues at Atlas aged 38 and, the granddaddy of them all, 44-year-old Oscar "Conejo" Perez is Pachuca's goalkeeper.
The caveat to all this is Donovan getting fit. He has to reach a good level of fitness and needs to steer clear of injuries, which might actually be his biggest challenge after such a long time out of the game.
But given the history, would you really bet against Donovan showing up in a big playoff game and making the difference for Leon with a key goal or assist? I wouldn't.
All signs points that it will be difficult for Landon Donovan to actually win a starting role at Leon because manager Gustavo Diaz already has a stable attack composed of Elias Hernandez, Mauro Boselli, Luis "Chapito" Montes and Andres Andrade. Donovan's immediate contributions could potentially take place in cup action, where Leon lost its first match against Ascenso MX side Cafetaleros Tapachula.
Other players who will also be making significant efforts to enter Diaz's XI will be MLS import Giles Barnes, Rodrigo Cecchini and Hernan Burbano, so the competition will be fierce, and it will be interesting to observe how fast Donovan showcases a good enough playing level.
Donovan's addition to the squad could potentially be influential for the strong core of youngsters Leon has in the team. Donovan's work ethic as he tries to win a significant role in the team will serve the youngsters an example to follow as they try to break into the first team themselves.
It will be a huge success if Donovan manages to enter the XI and make an impact, but the idea of him turning into a flop in Liga MX is a long shot because of his impressive work ethic.
Let's be real here. Landon Donovan is close to turning 36 years old and hasn't played a pro match in more than a year. It's more than clear that anyone expecting a 10 -goal, 10-assist season from the former LA Galaxy legend is going to be severely disappointed.
In a radio interview earlier this week, Donovan said he was "pretty much in shape", an assertion that will be put to the test in Mexico's legendary rarified air. Though it's a stretch to say all Leon expect from Donovan is to sell jerseys, a 500-minute season with a handful of starts is most likely in the cards. Then again, Donovan's most common comparison to a Mexican legend, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, was still bossing games in Mexico into his 40s. There's no reason why a confident, flair-heavy Donovan couldn't do the same for at least 15-20 minutes a game when he gets in rhythm.
Either way, deciding on whether Donovan is a flop or a star is wholly dependent on what people expect from him. He very well may be US Soccer's greatest ever male player, but expecting a player to come back from over a year of inactivity and dominate a league he's never played in before is nothing short of unreal. On the other end of the spectrum, Donovan is way too talented and way too proud of a player to allow himself to give off a negative image. He'll try his best, that's for sure.