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Mar 28, 2013

Landon Donovan returns to Galaxy

WASHINGTON -- Landon Donovan has returned to training with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Now his goal is to work his way back into the national team picture.

Donovan, who asked club coach Bruce Arena for an extended offseason after the Galaxy's MLS Cup triumph early last December, said Thursday that it will take some time to regain his form.

"I realize that I have a long way to go, both on the field and off the field, to work back into the national team, and that's my goal," Donovan said after a training session with the Galaxy at Georgetown. "I miss being a part of that. I want to represent my country again."

Donovan, who joined the Galaxy ahead of their visit to the White House Tuesday, said he would not play in Los Angeles' match Saturday at Toronto, but could return as a substitute in upcoming league matches.

He has also been keeping tabs on his national teammates. The U.S. men's national team drew Mexico 0-0 in World Cup qualifying Tuesday night in Mexico City.

"It was fantastic," Donovan said of the game, just the second time the U.S. secured a point in Mexico in World Cup qualifying. "I was so proud to watch, so proud to be just an American fan. Forget about a player or a teammate."

Donovan, 31, is the United States' all-time leading goal scorer and assists leader in international play, and has appeared in three World Cups.

As team captain in 2010, he scored the crucial game-winning goal against Algeria to help the U.S. win its group and move on to the second round.

In 2002, his goal against Mexico sealed a 2-0 victory that pushed the United States to the quarterfinals, its best finish in the tournament since World War II.

But Donovan's decision to take an extended offseason to "get the enjoyment back" in playing soccer continues a career path some have questioned all along.

While other U.S. national team standouts have gone to successful European professional careers, Donovan has remained in the MLS since 2001, vexing some who believe he should be playing regularly at a more elite level.

And although he has played in Germany and England on short-term loans during the MLS offseason, most recently with Everton in early 2012, he says he knows his decision to take an extended break this winter wouldn't be as well-received at other clubs.

"I've known a lot of these guys for a long time and I think they understood how badly I needed some time away," he said. "I'm fortunate to play for a team like this. There are probably a lot of other teams that would not have been as accepting."

He acknowledged winning over national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann may be a tougher task. Klinsmann did not consider Donovan for the first three U.S. matches in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. The U.S. Went 1-1-1 in those, including a snowy 1-0 victory over Costa Rica last Friday in Denver, followed by Tuesday's tie in Mexico City.

"He certainly hasn't agreed with a lot of my choices and that's understandable," Donovan said of Klinsmann. But "he's always been very respectful, he's always been supportive, and now my task is to find my way back in. And there's certainly no obligation on anyone's part to let me back in. I've got to earn my way back."

Galaxy teammate Omar Gonzalez, who's emerged as a key defender during the national team's push to make its seventh-straight World Cup Finals appearance, says he would welcome Donovan's help in that qualifying effort.

"It could be great for us," Gonzalez said. "He's just another option to threaten teams behind. He brings a lot of speed. Teams respect him, teams respect who he is, and he's also a great leader."

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