CARSON -- Josh Saunders had a blast in his return to the field last weekend, and he plans to be ready to go when the Galaxy's Major League Soccer schedule resumes in another week and a half.
Confirmation came down Thursday: The Galaxy goalkeeper, who spent a month dealing with stress in the league's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program, has been cleared to return to action.
Saunders made his first appearance since April 21 in Saturday night's MLS Reserve League game at Portland, and it was like he hadn't missed a day. He looked good in a 2-1 victory, conceding only on a penalty kick.
“It was amazing. Obviously, it was emotional,” he said following Thursday's training session, the Galaxy's first after five days off. “That's where I began my career, playing professionally [for the Timbers when they were a second-division team]. I had a lot of family and friends up there, so it was good to get out there in front of them.
“Just get back on the field, and it felt natural. It felt like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.”
Saunders entered the SABH program April 27 and had limited contact with his team before joining it May 15 at the White House to celebrate last year's MLS Cup championship with President Obama. He was back in training six days later, still returning each day to the program facility.
“I was under some stress. I was putting myself under a lot of pressure. I just needed to step away ...,” Saunders said on May 22. “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.”
He was cleared by doctors and apparently left the program before the game in Portland, and the Galaxy assumed -- but weren't certain -- that he was eligible to play for the first team. An MLS spokeswoman Thursday confirmed he has been reinstated.
He could make his return June 17 against Portland at Home Depot Center, the Galaxy's first game after MLS's two-weekend break for FIFA's international dates. That decision will be Bruce Arena's.
“It's been good [to have him back],” Arena said. “He's done a good job. He's fit, he's mentally good -- that's all good. Obviously, playing in the reserve game last week helped him. ... I didn't see the game. The reports are that he did well.”
Saunders looked sharp, and that's because, he said Thursday, “I've been fortunate to train while I was away, every day. There's no days off for me, especially now.”
Asked if he'd learned anything while away from the team, he said: “Don't take anything for granted. You've got to enjoy every day you're out here playing, because it's a privilege.”
LEONARDO'S LUCK: When Leonardo went down eight minutes into Saturday's game at Portland, everyone assumed the worst. The Brazilian center back was just back from last season's devastating knee injury -- he'd made his first-team return five days earlier in the U.S. Open Cup loss at Carolina -- and had just scored a superb goal minutes earlier, but a collision with Timbers forward Sebastian Rincon had him on the turf in anguish.
It appeared to be a major reinjury of his right knee, and the initial diagnosis, from the physician on duty at Jeld-Wen Park, was not good: torn ACL.
A subsequent MRI exam showed no structural damage, and Leonardo is questionable on the injury report. He was not in training Thursday.
“I almost got sick to my stomach when Leo went down in the Portland game,” forward Chad Barrett said. “He scored a great goal, and he's happy to be back and playing again -- he loves the game of soccer -- and I thought he did [his knee] again. I was really happy to come back and hear he is OK.”
Arena, too, was pleased, although he says he's “still waiting to make sure that [he's] OK. ... The big issue is the player. The guy's worked so hard. It's unbelievable how hard he's worked. ... We're happy that it appears to be nothing serious, and, hopefully, he'll be ready to return next week.”
HELP IN BACK?: Might former UC Santa Barbara All-American Andy Iro, a towering English defender who played the last half of last season at Toronto FC after 3½ years with the Columbus Crew, be the answer to L.A.'s backline problems? No telling, but was training Thursday with the Galaxy and will stay on trial, it appears, at least through next week.
“Just looking at him, whatever you want to call it,” Arena said. “We always try to bring in some players and have a look at them whenever we can.”
Iro, a muscular 6-foot-5 center back, made 58 starts in four MLS seasons, with 24 for the Crew in 2010 and 13 last year with Toronto FC after a mid-July trade. He declined a contract with TFC in January, and the Reds maintain his league rights.
Also training with the Galaxy is former Crew winger Robbie Rogers, a local product (Palos Verdes and Huntington Beach/Mater Dei HS) who plays for Leeds United in England. Rogers, who was on the preliminary 30-man World Cup roster two years ago but did not make the U.S. team for South Africa, is working his way back from an ankle injury suffered in mid-April.
WORTH NOTING: Edson Buddle's knee injury, which required meniscus surgery, “could be a little bit of a fresh injury along with an old one,” Arenaa said. He was hurt early in the May 26 loss at Houston but continued to play and was on the bench for the U.S. Open Cup three nights later. ... Also in camp is a goalkeeper that Arena refused to identify. ... The Galaxy play a Reserve League game Tuesday at Vancouver. ... Landon Donovan and the U.S. national open World Cup qualifying Friday evening in Tampa, Fla., against Antigua & Barbuda. Robbie Keane and Ireland play their Euro 2012 opener Sunday against Croatia in Poznan, Poland.