NEW YORK - Major League Soccer and the San Jose Earthquakes today announced that Earthquakes forward and U.S. National Team captain Landon Donovan will be rejoining Bayer Leverkusen beginning on January 1, 2005 upon the expiration of a four-year co-sharing agreement under which he has played in MLS since 2001. The Earthquakes will receive a replacement allocation as Donovan returns to the club which signed him in 1999.
"I became a professional soccer player at the young age of 16 by signing with Bayer Leverkusen of the German Bundesliga," Donovan said. "With Bayer Leverkusen's support I was able to come back to the States to hone my skills and be part of world-class American competition these last four seasons by playing in Major League Soccer with the San Jose Earthquakes.
"By playing at home, in front of my friends and family week in and week out, this has allowed me to grow as a player and I am ready to embrace a similar role with Leverkusen by continuing my career abroad. MLS and Leverkusen both have been very supportive of my decisions and concerned for the development of my game and I want to thank everyone who was involved in helping to make my transition to MLS and back to Germany seamless. It is because of the hard work from both sides that I am able to do this, but what I will miss the most are the amazing fans that have come to watch me and the Earthquakes play each season. I only hope I can continue to make them proud."
The 22-year-old Donovan had originally signed an innovative two-year co-sharing agreement in 2001 which gave the Bundesliga club the right to recall the World Cup veteran at the end of the 2002 season. Leverkusen exercised that right to retain Donovan, but negotiations between MLS, Bayer Leverkusen and Donovan's agent, Richard Motzkin of SportsNet, resulted in a new two-year co-sharing arrangement on Dec. 18, 2002. As in the case of the first co-sharing deal between MLS and Bayer Leverkusen (2001-2002), the latest deal also provided the German club an option on the forward's contract at the conclusion of the 2004 season, which Leverkusen exercised earlier this summer.
"We respect Landon's wishes to return to Germany and to repay Bayer Leverkusen for the club's cooperation in facilitating his four-year stay in MLS," said Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis. "We are proud of his accomplishments in MLS and on the international stage. I am confident that Landon will return at some stage in the future to contribute more to the League that has helped him to develop into a world class talent."
After starring at the 1999 FIFA Under-17 Youth World Championship in New Zealand, Donovan became one of the youngest Americans ever to sign a professional contract overseas when he joined Bayer Leverkusen in February 1999. An innovative co-sharing agreement allowed Donovan to return to the United States in 2001 with the San Jose Earthquakes. The 2000 U.S. Olympian led the Earthquakes to two MLS Cup championships in three seasons (2001 and 2003) on his way to becoming the captain of the U.S. National Team. His 57 international caps and 19 goals with the senior U.S. National Team have nearly come exclusively during his four years in MLS.
"It will be hard to find someone to fill the shoes of a player who has contributed so much to the success of the San Jose Earthquakes," said Earthquakes President & General Manager Alexi Lalas. "We wish Landon nothing but the best in Germany and look forward to watching him develop from this experience."
The California native and three-time reigning Honda Player of the Year burst onto the MLS scene in 2001, scoring seven goals in the regular season and earning All-Star MVP honors for his four-goal effort at the MLS All-Star Game in San Jose. Donovan scored another five goals in six games during the MLS Cup Playoffs, including the equalizer in MLS Cup 2001 against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
In 2002, Donovan again scored seven goals in MLS regular season play, helping San Jose to a club-best second place finish in the MLS regular season while splitting time with the U.S. National Team at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. He started each of the five games for the U.S. and scored two goals in the historic World Cup run which ended with a narrow 1-0 loss to Germany in the quarterfinals. Donovan's World Cup accomplishments landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June 2002 and ESPN The Magazine in May 2002. He was also featured on a number of television shows including The Late Show with David Letterman, MTV's Total Request Live!, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, Last Call with Carson Daly, Regis & Kelly and CNN Tonight with Connie Chung.
The following year he led the Earthquakes to the second MLS Cup title in club history, scoring 12 goals during the regular season to earn MLS Best XI honors for the first time. He also notched four goals in the playoffs and another two in MLS Cup 2003, earning him MLS Cup MVP honors in San Jose's 4-2 victory over Chicago.
In his Earthquakes career, Donovan scored 32 goals and recorded 29 assists in 87 games and is now second all-time in points in club history with 93. In the playoffs, the Ontario, Calif. native was at his best, scoring 10 goals and notching six assists in 14 career games, placing him fifth all-time in points in MLS postseason history (26).
"I am very excited to see Landon take this next step in his professional career," said Richard L. Motzkin, Donovan's agent and Principal & Founder of SportsNet, LLC. "I am certain that Landon will have as much success with Bayer Leverkusen as he has had the past four seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes. Major League Soccer and Bayer Leverkusen both deserve a tremendous amount of credit for allowing Landon to develop as a player and a person and we are very appreciative that both organizations always have put Landon's best interests first."
Bayer Leverkusen is ranked 11th in the German Bundesliga (19 points), just 10 points behind pacesetters Bayern Munich. The club is also in the running for the prestigious UEFA Champions League, where it is tied for first place in Group B with Real Madrid (Spain) and Dynamo Kiev (Russia). Leverkusen travel to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday to battle Spanish giants Real Madrid in a crucial group matchup.
Major League Soccer's 12 clubs prepare to celebrate the League's 10th season in 2005 as two new expansion teams join the fold. Following the MLS Expansion Draft on Nov. 19 and the opening of the trade window on Nov. 22, Club Deportivo Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake now join 10 other teams in building new squads this offseason with the 2005 MLS SuperDraft looming on January 14.