Donovan: 'I love American soccer'
When Landon Donovan left MLS on Nov. 23, he said he wanted to fulfill an obligation to Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, the club that was patient with him and loaned him to MLS and the San Jose Earthquakes for four years. However, he said he would return to MLS "at some point."
It turns out "some point" is now. Donovan officially returned to the league Thursday, signing a long-term contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
"I don't need to be in Europe," Donovan said at a press conference at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. "I don't need to be anywhere but here."
After just three months with Leverkusen, Donovan decided that the German Bundesliga club wasn't his proper place. He spent most of his time there on the bench, playing just nine matches and registering no goals and two assists. That lack of playing time, coupled with a desire to be close to his family, made his decision to move back to his Southern California roots a "no-brainer."
The fact that the Galaxy had told Donovan prior to his departure for Germany that they would accommodate him should he ever decide to return to MLS helped, too.
"I had a conversation [with the Galaxy] before I left for Germany, and they knew I was leaving, and they didn't know how long it would be, but they made it abundantly clear that they wanted me here," Donovan said. "I came out of that meeting more convinced than I've ever been about almost anything in my life.
"The situation in Germany definitely didn't go as planned," he added. "I need to play soccer, not only for my professional career, but for me personally. It makes me happy. And sitting on the bench anywhere is not fun for me."
Donovan also noted that he has a sense of the history of soccer in the United States and his own place in it. After AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke remarked that bringing Donovan home will allow more American children to make him their idol and role model, Donovan said he feels he has a duty to help guide the future growth of soccer in the United States.
"I want to be remembered as someone who helped this sport as much or more than anybody else," Donovan said. "I will be able to sleep tonight very happy and very content knowing that I did everything I could to make soccer at least the number two sport in this country."
Donovan also had a few words for his naysayers.
"I know there are people who are skeptical and will be critical and say what they want: 'It wasn't the right decision,' for whatever reason," he said. "But, I want you to remember that I'm here because I love soccer in this country. I love American soccer. I love U.S. Soccer. I love Major League Soccer."
Galaxy teammate Cobi Jones, who was on hand Thursday to present Donovan with his No. 10 Galaxy jersey, said he'd like to see Donovan's return to the United States become a trend among the nation's top players.
"I think it's a great decision by Landon ... to come back and play in the U.S.," Jones said. "It would be great to see more players do that."
The acquisition of one of U.S. soccer's premier players is the latest, and perhaps final, step in the offseason overhaul of the Galaxy roster. Head coach Steve Sampson previously brought 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, while sending striker Carlos Ruiz to FC Dallas in order to obtain the allocation necessary to acquire Donovan and free up roster and salary cap space.
But the Galaxy and Los Angeles aren't the only team and city affected by Donovan's move back to Southern California. Just four months ago, Donovan bid goodbye to the San Jose Earthquakes, a club he led to two MLS Cup titles in four years. After moving to the Earthquakes' bitter rivals, Donovan thanked the Quakes for their support, saying he looks forward to returning to Spartan Stadium. In a statement, Quakes President and General Manager Alexi Lalas said while the Quakes accept Donovan's decision, they don't necessarily like it.
"While we are disappointed in Landon's decision, we recognize his right and moreover his ability to dictate the course of his career," Lalas said. "It is clear that his desire, from a personal and professional standpoint, is to play in Los Angeles. While that may be a decision that is difficult for many to accept, given Landon's association with our team, it is nonetheless the reality. We have moved on from Landon Donovan and we are excited to kick off what we feel is going to be a successful 2005 season."
Donovan will be with the Galaxy when they kick off their season Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, against the Crew at 7:30 p.m. ET. 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.