Landon Donovan has come out of retirement for the third time, announcing on Thursday that he is joining the San Diego Sockers of the Major Arena Soccer League.
A source told ESPN FC that Donovan will make $250,000 to play the remainder of the MASL season, consisting of 13 games. The regular season ends in April followed by playoffs to determine the champion. The source added that the salary is by far the largest in the league's history.
"I'm extremely excited about the opportunity to play soccer here in my new hometown," said Donovan at his introductory news conference. "I moved here three years ago with my wife and my family. The Sockers was the first name and brand in the soccer world I ever knew. MLS wasn't around and I didn't grow up watching European leagues. To have the opportunity to live here to have been part of this community, I'm really excited for the chance to get out and play."
The comeback is Donovan's third since his first retirement announcement in 2014. He returned to the LA Galaxy for the last few months of the 2016 season, making nine league and playoff appearances and scoring one goal. He retired again following the conclusion of that campaign.
He emerged from retirement again last year when he signed with Liga MX side Club Leon. He made eight appearances, but those totaled just 152 minutes, failing to score. Last summer, Leon announced it had terminated Donovan's contract.
Throughout his retirements, the 36-year-old has dabbled in broadcasting work, and was involved in a bid to bring an MLS team to San Diego. The stadium plan associated with the bid was rejected by voters last November.
But Donovan said less than a week ago he received a text from a mutual friend of Sockers' chief marketing officer, Craig Elston, asking if he'd be interested in playing for the team. Donovan said at first that he thought the idea "was a joke" but he then discussed the idea with his wife, Hannah, who recalled how Donovan trained with the Sockers a year ago, and couldn't stop talking about it.
"She said, 'You came home with a smile on your face that I hadn't seen in a long time,'" Donovan recalled. "I said, 'Okay, well let's think about it.' Cut to today and here we are."
The Sockers brand dates back to 1978 and the days of the old North American Soccer League. After the league folded following the 1984 season, the Sockers became an indoor powerhouse, and have won 14 titles in a variety of indoor leagues over the years. But the team's last championship came in the 2012-13 season. Team management not only felt Donovan would be an immense draw, but would help get the team to winning titles again.
"When the idea [of signing Donovan] came up, it was a no-brainer for us," said Sockers director of player personnel Chiky Luna. "The first priority is winning. Of course, he's going to bring a lot of attention to the city, to the team, but I didn't want to distract from the idea of winning a championship. After conversations, we realized it was a great fit, the leadership, the experience he's going to bring, and I feel overall this is going to be a perfect fit for our young guys."
The announcement marks Donovan's first professional foray into the indoor game, and he knows there are some differences from the outdoor game.
"There is crossover," said Donovan, comparing the outdoor game to the indoor version. "In the end, the objective is the same: trying score goals and prevent the other team from scoring. But there are a lot of nuances I'm going to have to learn."
He added, "I'm excited about it, and I want to be here in May with all of you celebrating [championship] No. 15."
Donovan, along with Clint Dempsey, is considered to be among the top players the U.S. has ever produced. Prior to his stint with Leon, Donovan played 14 seasons in MLS with both LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes, during which time he won six MLS Cups and became the league's all-time top scorer. Donovan has also made 157 appearances with the U.S. men's national team and along with Dempsey is the joint top goal scorer in U.S. history, tallying 57 times.
The MASL consists of 17 teams across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The league plays a 24-game schedule from November to April.
"Landon has been a tremendous ambassador of the sport for so many years," said MASL commissioner Lane Smith. "Our league is growing across three countries ... and we look forward to what Landon and the Sockers' organization can do for the entire MASL and bring this sport to another level."
The Sockers are atop the four-team Pacific Division, with a record of 10-1. Donovan is expected to make his debut on Feb. 15 when they host the Tacoma Stars at the Pechanga Arena.