This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Carson, Calif. • Kyle Beckerman's hunch regarding his friend, one-time teammate and rival never really waned. Not even after Landon Donovan's supposed final goodbye to Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the 2014 Western Conference semifinal, when the best American soccer player the country has ever produced notched a hat-trick and an assist in the memorable 5-0 stomping of RSL.
"I thought that there was a possibility that maybe he'd come back," said a smiling Beckerman. "I was hoping he'd come to our team. We'll face him again."
A day after the L.A. Galaxy drew with RSL 3-3 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sept. 7, the 34-year-old midfielder ended his 20-month hiatus from soccer after leading L.A. to a fifth MLS Cup trophy in 2014. Turns out that goodbye was a placeholder for Wednesday's Western conference knockout match between No. 3 L.A. and No. 6 RSL. Donovan earned his third start of the year Wednesday against RSL and assisted on the first goal of the game.
Since his shocking return to MLS, Donovan appeared in six regular-season matches, starting two. His one shot on goal in 2016 was a goal in his second game back at Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 18. In his 10th season in MLS, RSL midfielder Javier Morales has regularly run into L.A. teams spearheaded by Donovan and other big-time names. The surprise to Morales, he said, was that Donovan stepped away when he did.
"I said to him, 'Why?' You're younger than me,' " Morales recalled. "Now, I don't know. I think it's their thought. I would like to be there and try to beat L.A. and Landon in the last game of his career."
Donovan's future beyond 2016 remains up in the air. He initially said 2017 was a dim possibility, but in a recent on-air interview on Fox Sports 1, he hinted at another return next season.
"Taking a few years off is tough," he said, "but I think if it keeps going well and keeps progressing, we can consider next year."
RSL general manager Craig Waibel recently spent 10 days in Europe and Scandinavia on a scouting trip. The purpose of the fall jaunt was to spend time scouting potential players for 2017 and beyond, but to establish relationships with agents overseas.
"It was very educational for me it was essential," Waibel said on ESPN 700 AM on Monday night. "There will be more trips for myself and the rest of my department."
Beltran out again
A recurring injury hit RSL's back line at the wrong time. RSL veteran right back Tony Beltran suffered a back injury in training Saturday before RSL's regular-season finale at Seattle and did not play. Beltran was again out of the lineup Wednesday; Chris Wingert started in place of Beltran.