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L.A. begins life without Donovan

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

MLS Features Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Landon Donovan has gotten used to missing a chunk of the MLS season due to his international duties. And once again, at the same time that David Beckham is absent stateside while on loan to AC Milan, Donovan is taking his own considerable star appeal away from league competition.

Donovan navigated the first 11 MLS games this year without missing a minute, but the Americans' all-time leading scorer has joined the U.S. for a stretch that could overlap with as few as four MLS games - or as many as eight.

L.A. is off to a surprising yet odd start, with just one loss, but also just one win through 11 games. The Galaxy are 1-1-9, including a current undefeated streak of nine matches that is the fourth-longest in club history.

The Galaxy will try to extend their unbeaten streak to 10 matches at Toronto FC on Saturday, and also end a streak of five straight draws - a club record. Most impressive is the fact L.A. is 0-1-7 when conceding the first goal.

Landon Donovan will likely miss the next four MLS games to play World Cup qualifiers.
Donovan will be missed by the Galaxy, though not having Beckham for the first third of the season hasn't made much of a difference for the club. L.A. won't get Beckham back until mid-July, when there are just 13 games left in the regular season.

Donovan will likely miss the next four MLS games to play World Cup qualifiers, and then play in the Confederations Cup in South Africa that features world powers Brazil, Italy and Spain.

If U.S. coach Bob Bradley keeps Donovan on the team through July's Gold Cup, he could miss four more matches.

"There are some possibilities in terms of players that may be able to do both. You have to understand the demands of the different clubs around the world and in MLS," Bradley said.

Remember that with Beckham and Donovan in the lineup last season, L.A. wasn't even a playoff team. The Galaxy haven't made the playoffs in three years, even with Donovan.

That said, Donovan is a difference maker, arguably the best player in MLS. With six goals and four assists through 11 games, it's going to be tough for L.A. to replace his production - much of which doesn't show up in stats.

Former U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who is in his first full season with L.A., can look at Donovan's loss in two ways: L.A. has just one loss with Donovan this season, or L.A. has just one win with Donovan.

"I really think our players can deal with the loss of Landon in a right way," Arena said. "You lose players all the time."

Yes, teams lose players on an almost weekly basis, but they're not always as good as Donovan. He has 90 goals and 73 assists in his MLS career, and has 37 goals for the U.S.

"I think we have guys who are able to step up," Arena said.

Even Donovan thinks L.A. will be OK while he's out, something he didn't believe the last few seasons.

"We'll be fine while I'm gone," Donovan said on the league's website. "Bruce has done a great job, we understand what we should be doing and the guys know what's expected.

"Now we just have to go do it."

Edson Buddle, who had 15 goals and three assists last season, has returned to health and should slot in to replace Donovan. Perfect timing? Yes. Buddle is a great solution to losing Donovan, the team's captain.

But the reason L.A. won't miss Donovan as much this season is because the team is much better defensively.

Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is fourth in MLS with a 0.88 goals-against average, and Omar Gonzalez has started all 11 games on a back line that was strengthened by the addition of ex-U.S. national team defender Gregg Berhalter

"That's something we didn't have in the past," Donovan said. "I know we're going to be in games. We have guys who have creative abilities, we defend well and we're going to be competitive."

L.A. was 2-2-1 last season when Donovan was out and, if it can put together a similar stretch this season, the club could be a team to watch when it really matters - in the postseason.

When that time rolls around, Donovan will be settled back in, and so will Beckham. And L.A. - gulp - could be a threat for the MLS Cup.

Pat Martin Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Pat Martin at pmartin@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com
Brian Westfall

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