The best player in American soccer history walked onto the field as a late-game substitute Sunday, only 10 days after abruptly ending his 21-month retirement, and the chants grew louder. In front of a sold-out crowd in Kansas City, Kan., LA Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan acknowledged hearing his name broadcast over the Children’s Mercy Park public address system.
He heard the chants, too.
“A-A-R-P,” they echoed, intensifying with each chorus.
Thirty-one seconds later, after the conclusion of a second-half water break, Donovan responded with a not-so-subtle message.
Never miss a local story.
He ain’t done yet.
Donovan put an exclamation point on the second match of his comeback tour Sunday, supplying the game-tying goal in the Galaxy’s 2-2 draw against Sporting Kansas City.
Afterward, he placed his fingers to his ears, shoving them toward a suddenly-silent crowd of 19,480.
“Listen, I got an 8-month-old (baby) at home. Diapers are expensive. I wish I was getting the benefits of AARP right now,” Donovan said.
“But I think they probably realized I might have a little time left in this old guy.”
A week ago, Donovan, 34, donned a playing jersey for the first time in since 2014. He had retired following the MLS Cup.
After a seven-minute spell on the field last weekend left him just shy of exhaustion, Donovan commented that in his return from retirement, perhaps his most notable contribution would come as a locker-room mentor.
We knew better.
The 145th goal of Donovan’s career — more than any player in league history — came off his left foot. A line drive through traffic crept inside the far post in the 76th minute and will carry playoff implications for both Western Conference teams.
“At that point, instincts take over and you do what you’ve done your whole life,” Donovan said. “Ten years ago, I would’ve been really excited for me. I told you guys and my family that when I came back, I want to help this team. I felt like last week I was useless on the field. I don’t like that feeling.
“This was a game that needed a play.”
As for those playoff implications...
On Saturday, a handful of results across Major League Soccer narrowed Sporting Kansas City’s already slim buffer in the Western Conference playoff race.
It’s even tighter now.
Sporting KC, 11-12-7, remained unbeaten across its past eight home MLS matches, but it has turned late leads into draws in two consecutive games. As a result, it sits in the final playoff spot in the West, only five points ahead of Seattle, which has played two fewer matches.
“Basically four points dropped that probably very, very well could cost us the playoffs,” Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “Extremely concerning and disappointing for our squad to give up easy points like that.”
Before Donovan stole the headline — and two points from the home team — Sporting KC used a dominant performance to propel a comeback. Galaxy forward Alan Gordon scored only seven minutes into the match, but Jacob Peterson responded in the 50th minute with his career-best sixth goal of the season after a Dom Dwyer pass lined up with his back-post run.
Dwyer put Sporting KC in front in the 69th minute, collecting a pass from Saad Abdul-Salaam, who recorded his sixth assist of the season.
Sporting KC outshot LA Galaxy 20-4 for the match, and it outshot the Galaxy 52-9 over three matches this year.
All three resulted in draws —the last thanks to the best scorer in United States men’s national team and Major League Soccer history.
“To come back in a game like this, in a situation like this, in a stadium like this, against a team like this, it’s pretty special,” Donovan. “I think it could look a lot like that in the playoffs.”