California love: Donovan returns to MLS

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After spending three months playing in Germany, Landon Donovan officially rejoined MLS Thursday, signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Donovan departed MLS on November 23, 2004, citing a desire to fulfill an obligation to Bayer Leverkusen, the German Bundesliga club that has owned his rights since 1999 and loaned the U.S. international star to MLS and the San Jose Earthquakes for four years starting in 2001.

At the time, Donovan said he felt it was his duty to at least try to make it as a professional soccer player in Germany, but added that he would return to MLS one day. When things didn't go as well as he would have liked at Leverkusen, he and the German club worked out a way for him to return to the United States.

Donovan's move to the Galaxy has been circling the rumor mill for a week, after Germany's Kicker magazine first reported that he would be leaving Leverkusen. U.S. media picked up on the story, and by the time Donovan and the U.S. national team took the field in Mexico City for a World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Sunday, it was widely reported that the Galaxy would trade striker Carlos Ruiz to FC Dallas in exchange for an allocation and then sign Donovan. The Ruiz trade occurred yesterday, providing the Galaxy with the means to acquire Donovan and opening up space in the Galaxy's roster and salary budget for him.

Donovan had reportedly been unhappy at Leverkusen since rejoining his first professional club in January. He made just nine appearances for the club and registered no goals and two assists. He was criticized for his performance in a UEFA Champions League match against Liverpool that saw Leverkusen eliminated from the competition.

In Los Angeles, Donovan joins a lineup already loaded with international stars. Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson overhauled his roster in the offseason, bringing in Costa Rican international defenders Pablo Chinchilla and Michael Umaña, Guatemalan national team captain Guillermo "El Pando" Ramirez and Brazilian players Ednaldo "Naldo" da Conceicao and Paulo Nagamura.

Donovan completes the makeover by adding yet another attacking option. He can play at both forward and midfield, though in his previous MLS stint, he was used primarily on the front line.

His return could provide an interesting storyline to the already intense San Jose Earthquakes-Los Angeles Galaxy rivalry. The Earthquakes were left looking for a replacement when Donovan departed in November, and now he has returned mere months later to play for the Quakes' bitter rivals. The Quakes and Galaxy meet for the first time this season on May 21 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and Donovan will return to San Jose's Spartan Stadium for the first time on June 25.

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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