For one day anyway, Kyle Beckerman wouldn’t mind much if Landon Donovan were still on hiatus from soccer, still tromping around Cambodia or sitting at home in front of a television set.
But even in the run-up to a Western Conference rivalry game with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Real Salt Lake’s captain welcomed Donovan’s return to the game.
“It’s not a positive for Saturday. We’d love to see him sitting on the bench or sitting in the stands,” Beckerman said with a grin. “But for U.S. soccer, it’s a great thing. He’s arguably the best ever in U.S. colors. He’s going to make the team better.”
First, however, Donovan will have to reclaim his spot.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said this week that Donovan’s goal and assist in a 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City last weekend were not enough to earn a roster spot on the national team after walking away from soccer late last year.
And the 31-year-old Donovan agrees.
“Just because you score a goal and have a good game doesn’t mean you’re a national team player, and I’ve said from the beginning I have to earn my way back,” Donovan told reporters Thursday in California. “So I’ve still got a long way to go.”
Worn down from long seasons with time split among Major League Soccer, the U.S. national team, and the English club Everton, Donovan walked away from the game late last year, after hoisting his third MLS Cup.
He missed all of the Galaxy’s preseason, a month of MLS play, and important World Cup qualifying matches for the U.S., for which he has made 144 career appearances. But since returning to action last month, Donovan has been working his way back into the form that made him a household name.
“You see every game it is getting better,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said last week after Donovan’s performance in the victory over Kansas City.
But Donovan said he must do more to win his way back on to the national roster.
“I have to continue to build on what I did last week, and at that point there’s still no guarantee either,” he said. “Like Jurgen said, I’m well behind the group in a lot of ways, and I’m aware of that. All I want is a chance to prove that I belong, and I’m going to work hard to make sure I get that chance.”
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who has been tasked plenty of times with stopping Donovan, called his return “great for the Galaxy and soccer in America.”
“He’s a big part of U.S. Soccer — MLS and the national team,” Rimando said. “To have him back and his fresh wheels back, and a fresh head on his shoulders is good.”
Barring a leg injury that could keep Donovan out of Saturday’s starting lineup, Real Salt Lake will have to deal with a highly motivated veteran player.
That’s a prospect RSL coach Jason Kreis can handle.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Kreis said, “one of the best players this country has every produced, and probably the best player who has ever played in the league. It’s important we have players like that stick around.”
L.A. Galaxy at RSL
O At Rio Tinto Stadium
Kickoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • CW30
Records • Galaxy 3-1-2 (11 points); RSL 3-3-2 (11 points)
About the Galaxy • L.A. has won back-to-back MLS Cups. ... Landon Donovan’s first goal of the season came last weekend against Sporting Kansas City. ... Defense has allowed just four goals this year.
About Real Salt Lake • RSL is unbeaten at home this season (2-0-1). ... Forward Alvaro Saborio leads the team with three goals scored. ... Captain Kyle Beckerman should be back in the midfield after missing last week with a rib injury.
Landon Donovan file
• Midfielder, Los Angeles Galaxy • 31 years old
• Holds the record for U.S. goals (46) and assists (47)
• Has won three MLS Cups (2005, 2011, 2012)
• Has played in three World Cups, scoring 5 goals in 12 games
• One of the top MLS players of all time, with 125 goals and 109 assists