On Wednesday afternoon, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Landon Donovan announced that he had put pen to paper on a new multi-year extension with the club, one which will potentially see him end his career in South California. In doing so, they marked the beginning of a new chapter in an eventful relationship.
Unusually, this contract deal was one of bilateral uncertainty. That is to say (unlike most instances of contract renewal in football), it remained unclear for some time as to whether either party was actually interested in an extension. Donovan supposedly had offers from Europe on the table, and the Galaxy were said to be considering how best to make use of their third and final Designated Player slot. But their relationship appears to be, in the words of Morrissey, a light that never goes out.
And its continuation speaks volumes about both Landon and the Galaxy.
Back in 1999, Donovan graduated from the IMG Academy (a school for sporting excellence, boasting alumnus of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Michael Bradley) and was soon signed up by Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, by whom he was spotted playing in a European youth tournament. After struggling to adapt to life in Germany he was regularly loaned to San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer, at which he thrived for the next three seasons.
In 2005 he secured a permanent move back to the States, joining Los Angeles. In the eight years since, he has become a steward not only for the Galaxy but for US Soccer in general. In addition to his five MLS Cups and fearsome domestic goalscoring record (just four inevitable goals short of Jeff Cunningham’s league record 134), he is also a three time Gold Cup winner, the second most capped American player ever and the leading US scorer of all time.
However, it has not all been plain sailing. In late 2012, Donovan expressed his desire to take a break from football due to the physical and mental strain it was putting on him. He also stated that he was considering either retiring or finding a new challenge when his contract with LA ended after the 2013 season.
When he did return in March of this year, he found himself without the LA captaincy and off to a slow start – understandably so, having been away for several months. Nevertheless, he found a way into the USMNT squad for this summer’s Gold Cup, during which he rediscovered form and propelled his side to victory with a string of excellent performances, finishing as top scorer and player of the tournament.
On his return to Los Angeles after the tournament, he continued his fine form and provided a much needed boost to a lacklustre Galaxy side, scoring a hat-trick in his first MLS game back.
With his passion renewed, performances improved and contract expiring, rumours started to circulate about what the future held for Landon. Would he quit while he was ahead and retire? Would he take the plunge and move to Europe? Would he remain at LA?
For many, the preferred option was the second. There is a feeling in some circles in the US that an American player has not truly ‘made it’ until they are successful in one of the big European leagues. With Donovan widely dubbed as the greatest player to ever come out of the United States, it is understandable that fans might want him to fly the flag abroad and on the world stage.
However, whilst it is certain that there were offers on the table for him to do so, Landon has opted to stay put. And why shouldn’t he? He is comfortable in California, playing well and very much in contention for a World Cup 2014 spot. What’s more is that he is playing well for a club he loves unreservedly; indeed, during his break from football he maintained a presence off the field, fulfilling his ambassadorial role. He even went as far as making sales calls to season ticket holders. This is a man who’s happy where he’s at.
But what about the Galaxy? With Donovan now 31, and only one DP slot remaining after Omar Gonzalez’s renewal, it must have crossed the management’s minds to consider letting him go. It had been speculated for months on end that big-name players were being courted by LA, with fans excited by rumours of Frank Lampard, Kaka and (less so) Giovani Dos Santos. Signing Donovan to a new deal would leave no DP slots free for the foreseeable future, thus potentially preventing the capture of a new ‘Hollywood’ player.
Nevertheless, LA eventually clarified their position, and unequivocally so. In the wake of securing Gonzalez’s signature, President Chris Klein stated that “Landon is the Galaxy…we want to keep him here”. And keep him they did.
Ultimately, we are beginning to see a picture of Landon Donovan and LA Galaxy as two entities who are comfortable in their own skin. The former has decided that there is little reason to move, for he is already living somewhere that suits him and playing in a league where he can achieve his ambitions. Meanwhile, the Galaxy have put any plans for another Beckham-esque transfer on hold because, in their eyes, they don’t need one. And I agree. They have all the talent they need for now right under their noses, and their status as one of the league’s biggest teams has very much been cemented. Their task now is to transform a few years of success into an era of dominance, a legacy if you will. LA seem very much ready to do that, with Landon Donovan at the helm.