Josh Saunders out indefintely
LOS ANGELES -- Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who won the starting job last year with a series of sensational performances as L.A. streaked to the MLS Cup championship, has enrolled in Major League Soccer's substance abuse treatment program and will be out for an indefinite time, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
The Galaxy was told Friday that Saunders, 31, would not be available until completing the league's treatment protocol, the newspaper reported. He missed Saturday's 1-1 draw with FC Dallas at Home Depot Center while dealing with a "personal matter," the club reported.
"He's just out for personal reasons," head coach Bruce Arena said in his postgame news conference Saturday. "We don't want to go past that."
Club officials said Saunders had not failed a league-administered drug test, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Scott French covers the Southern California soccer scene and beyond for ESPNLA.com.
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A Galaxy spokesman told ESPN Los Angeles that Saunders "is unavailable for [Wednesday] night's game" at Seattle and that the club would make a statement later, although none would be forthcoming Tuesday night.
Galaxy forward Edson Buddle was suspended three weeks and sent to an assessment program for substance abuse after he was convicted of drunk driving in 2005, when he played for the Columbus Crew.
New England Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph missed six weeks in 2010 while in a treatment program after testing positive for marijuana. The Revolution and MLS did not reveal the reasons behind Joseph's absence, but the Grenada-born midfielder acknowledged to the Boston Herald that he "got caught and they sent me to drug rehab."
Columbus Crew defender Josh Williams was suspended 10 games and fined 10 percent of his salary ($4,200) last year after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance found in an over-the-counter nutritional supplement.
Former Galaxy midfielder Santino Quaranta approached the league for help with drug and alcohol addiction in October 2007, he told The Washington Post four years ago. Quaranta, who then was on the Arena-coached New York Red Bulls' roster, had tested positive for cocaine in 2006 but was not suspended because it was his first offense, he told the newspaper.
MLS players face a minumum of two random drug tests every year under MLS' Substance Abuse and Behavioral Program in the collective-bargaining agreement.
Saunders was arrested and charged with a DUI near Portland, Ore., according to The Oregonian, in August 2004, when he was a goalkeeper for the Timbers, then a second-division club. He first joined Portland on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes, who drafted him out of the University of California in 2003.
Saunders went to the Galaxy in 2005 but was loaned back to the Timbers, then played with minor-league clubs in Puerto Rico and Miami before returning to L.A., at first on loan, in 2008.
He had played in just 10 games over all or parts of six MLS seasons before last year, when international duty and a broken arm sidelined first-choice Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. Saunders started 18 regular-season games (with 19 appearances), all four playoff matches and all six games in the CONCACAF Champions League's group stage, remaining in the lineup when Ricketts returned to health. Ricketts was traded to expansion Montreal in late November.
Saunders had played every minute in the Galaxy's first eight games this season, including both legs of a Champions League quarterfinal loss to Toronto FC. He was the hero of L.A.'s triumph April 21 at Colorado, saving a penalty kick in stoppage time to secure a 2-1 decision.
Scott French covers soccer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.