CARSON -- Josh Saunders wasn't going to sneak quietly back onto the field for the Galaxy. His teammates made sure of that, welcoming him warmly into training again after 3½ weeks away in Major League Soccer's substance abuse treatment program -- and teasing him, of course, about the time off.
“He looks great,” David Beckham said Tuesday after Saunders' second on-field session since he left the team April 27. “He's straight back into it. He's had a bit of stick [from his teammates] for having a few weeks off, but it's good to have him back. It's important for him to get back with the players and team and his friends, and he seems happy.”
Saunders isn't yet eligible to play -- he's still in the program, returning to the facility each day from Home Depot Center -- and there's no timeline for his return, but reintegrating with the group, in the locker room and on the training field, is an important step in his recovery.
It's stress, not, as widely speculated, drugs or alcohol that sent the 31-year-old goalkeeper into MLS's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Program, Saunders said in a brief exchange with media Tuesday.
“I was putting myself under a lot of pressure. I just needed to step away ...,” he said. “I was under some stress, had some family issues, wanted to deal with them on my own. We're humans. We have a life outside of soccer, and people forget that. I'm just happy to be in the state that I'm in now.”
So are his teammates.
“It's like he was never gone,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “He addressed the team, and we welcomed him back with open arms, and we'll support him all along the way. ...
“[It's vital for him] to be around the locker room, around the guys, get the banter and all that kind of stuff that we get on a daily basis. If you don't have that, it's difficult. You can see that with guys that go out for long injuries and come back, they miss that. Just to welcome back and give him jabs a little bit again and get him in with the jokes again makes a difference.”
The Galaxy (3-6-2) could use an emotional boost, too. Their struggles have intensified without Saunders, no fault to backup goalkeepers Brian Perk and Bill Gaudette, who have performed admirably in his absence. The Galaxy are winless in their last five outings, since Saunders' departure, and head into Wednesday night's game at HDC against San Jose sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
“We want to, obviously, start winning some games,” Saunders said. “But at the same time, it's great to be back here in this situation. [Watching the games has been] difficult because I left abruptly, but, like I said, I'm a person, so I needed first and foremost to care of myself and my family. But it was difficult.”
WORTH NOTING: Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who is off with the U.S. national team until mid-June, told FIFA's website that he would love to return to English club Everton, for which he enjoyed prosperous loan spells in 2010 and earlier this year. “I would absolutely like to come back,” he said. “There's no question about that, and I know I will be back at some point. Now whether I'm back as a player or just as a fan, who knows?” ... Forward Robbie Keane's arrival in Dublin to join Ireland's preparations for Euro 2012 were delayed as he underwent a scan on his ailing hamstring, which forced him to miss Saturday's loss to Chivas USA. “The news is the scan was not bad,” Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni told media in Dublin. “We are not worried, and we await him with confidence. ... Robbie for us is important. I think we have enough time for him to recover. We have three or four options, also important options, but obviously Robbie is our captain, our opponents have respect for him and he's experienced. He's important.” ... Teen forward Jack McBean also is away on international duty, in Portugal with the U.S. under-18 team to face Poland, Slovakia and Portugal in the Lisbon International Tournament.