Donovan may help Galaxy, but not MLS

If you’ve heard of the law of diminishing returns, know that I don’t take as much pleasure in sports as I used to. Only recently have I come to grips with sports as an addiction, like heroin or the music of U2. I often find myself watching sports not because of love as much as a function of the autonomic nervous system. I watch because the feeling of “must do” overrides the feeling of “ought to do.”  

For those rare occasions when an athlete does something truly thrilling, I love the guy for that fleeting moment of reintroducing the love of sport. This was the last time I honestly lost my composure watching a sporting event.

So know I love that Landon Donovan, who retired too early in my opinion, returned to the Los Angeles Galaxy last week and played in his first game Sunday in a 4-2 victory over Orlando City SC.

Overall, though, I have a sinking feeling this is a bad idea for MLS. The reason is that the league, while telling us repeatedly about its improving quality of play, rarely acquires an elite soccer player who is still in his physical prime. Indeed, there is a global reputation of the league handing out golden parachutes to international players who want a final decent paycheck before bowing out.

Consider that Donovan is currently the greatest American-born player. He isn’t the most recognizable player in MLS history. That would be David Beckham, who joined the Galaxy at age 32. Beckham’s arrival rang in a rule change for a league that was known for being miserly — the designated player rule. Basically, it’s a financial workaround to bring in a limited number of free agent talent. And other teams responded by bringing in international superstars that were a bit past their prime, such as the New York Red Bulls did with Thierry Henry, who was 33 when he signed.

Orlando City SC and NYCFC made multiple designated player moves to excite a fan base for their first seasons in 2025. Orlando signed 32-year-old Kaka. NYCFC added David Villa, 33, Andrea Pirlo, 36, and Frank Lampard, 37. Lampard’s ballyhooed arrival last year fizzled thanks to age-related injury.

Even when the league debuted, it touted as one of its main draws Colombian star Carlos Valderamma, who was 35 at the time.

Understand, I haven’t much of a clue how to make MLS on the same level as Serie A in Italy or the Premiere League in England. Heck, I wouldn’t know how to lift MLS past Liga MX.

But signing players on the downside of their careers isn’t a solution. If you name your MVP award after a guy, you shouldn’t ask him to play again and expect it to work.

On a personal level, as a fan, I’m glad Donovan is back.

But what’s left of my sports-fried addicted mind knows that this is simply the latest hit of bad heroin.

Modest praise for the New York sports fan

I want to start by turning back the clock to 1988. I proofread copy for a newspaper in the San Diego area that no longer exists. People there aren’t excited about newspapers. And you really have to prod them into giving a damn about their sports teams — like the Padres making the World Series. Oh, the frontrunners came out from their climate-controlled holes then.

Anyway, on their way to getting their asses kicked by the New York Yankees, all I could hear from Padres fans were how classy they were compared to those east coast scoundrels. I knew this was crap. You can’t keep validating yourself based on the words of Will Ferrell.

But what about the intimidating rep of the New York sports fan? Are they as insufferable as Boston elitists? In need on an in-stadium criminal court system such as Philadelphia?

I attended three sporting events last week in New York — technically two, one was in New Jersey — and I’m here to tell you for the most part I don’t have a problem with them. To be frank, depending on the situation, I’d rather hang out with them than I would San Diego sports fans.

If I were to rank the three based on knowledge, passion and willingness to throw down money on their team, with minus points for stupidity and threatening behavior, it would go:

1) Yankees fans

2) Red Bulls fans

3) Mets fans

With Yankees fans, it depends on where you sit in the House That Ruth Didn’t Rebuild. Yankee Stadium, and as a Dodgers fan it pains me to say this, is every bit the cathedral of baseball one would imagine it to be. If you sit with the Bleacher Creatures in deep right field, you better fake bleeding pinstriped blood. They have the rep of Philly fans, but I must admit to their credit, the roll call is stirring.

After the Yankees take the field, the creatures chant the name of every Yankees player on the field until the player turns and waves back. Considering the game I attended was Alex Rodriguez’s last, the chant for A-Rod brought the house down.

Still, Yanks fans aren’t idiots. They bemoaned A-Rod’s suspension for substance abuse as much as they saluted him. Compare that with Bostonians traveling to NFL offices in New York and holding protests to “free Tom Brady” from his cheating suspension. Yankees fans also can laugh at themselves a little bit and talk in depth about the team.

Red Bulls fans have a little more edge. Even if you don’t like soccer, at least hang out with a supoorters group. They’re the ones having all the fun, anyway.

Their chants include obscenities, more punching at the air than a Billy Blanks Tae-Bo video and a plea to line the other team against the wall for execution. I’ve heard worse. Besides, the South Ward holds thousands chanting in unison. Well, mostly in unison. That’s not an easy trick.

The team does love that support. I prefer the Viking Army or Empire Supporters Club to other rooter groups I’ve come across in Major League Soccer.

I can’t tell you if they know soccer as Yankees fans know baseball. When you’re singing and dancing for a 90-minute soccer game, not to mention on the cusp of alcohol poisoning, you’re not going to hear strategy.

But how do I know that New York fans are just like any other city’s fans? I went to Citi Field to catch the Mets.

Most sports fans that I know refuse to accept reality when their team stinks. It’s always somebody else’s fault, particularly a cheating referee or the local press or ownership. Also, despite claims that a real fan would never leave early…

Put it this way, the first place I went to after arriving in New Jersey was to take the train to Queens to Citi Field. Next to me on this train were four guidos and a guidette who looked like they had just finished an audition for “The Moderately Overweight Jersey Shore,” and they were decked out in Mets gear from head to painted open-toed shoes.

“Hi, could you tell me which train drops you off at Citi Field?”

A guido who forgot the “gym” part of GTL sneered, “Take the Long Island Rail Road.” Then he pointed at me while looking at his friends. “This guy,” he said about me with a dismissive wave and kept talking.

So the Mets got the hell kicked out of them by the woefully inept Arizona Diamondbacks. When Mets fans boo, and boo they did, it was deafening. It was also beautiful. I wish I could download it on iTunes for $1.29.

Citi Field, which I think is actually quite handsome, is not the cathedral Yankee Stadium is. Besides, you can’t cuss in a cathedral the way Mets fans did. Or blame everybody else for your team losing 9-0.

I left early. I don’t care about the Mets or the Diamondbacks. But remember, the most passionate fans are supposedly on the east coast, where it is absolute heresy to leave early.

Or so New York would have you believe. Because legions of alleged die-hards scurried to beat me to the train back to Manhattan. Further points deducted for them talking up the New York Jets going to the Super Bowl this year.

While descending the stairs, I also noticed who I was about to run into: the three guidos. Maybe the guidette traded up for the Yankees. No idea.

But know this, the next time your team is slapping around the New York Islanders or the Jets and you know there’s going to be traffic and you have to work early tomorrow — leave early guilt-free.

Because if the random New York fan says you’re not a real fan — unlike the loyalists in New Yawk — I can tell you he’s full of more poop than an obese man’s bedpan.

They’re the same as you. Good in some ways, not so much in others. It’s just sports.