Donovan shouldn’t have to return to MLS, not yet at least

Imagine being a Lakers fan and wanting to see Kobe Bryant leave.

Yet that is exactly how Los Angeles Galaxy fans should currently feel about Landon Donovan, who just this past weekend returned to LA from English Premier League team Everton on a tremendously successful three-month loan where he impressed in what were three of the best months of his career.

Donovan awed the fans of the Liverpool club week-in and week-out, so much so that he was voted Everton’s Player of the Month by fans for January and spurred Facebook groups clamoring for his stay at the club. In his final home game for Everton at Goodison Park on March 7, he came on as a second half sub and in only 20 minutes of play scored a fantastic goal and added an assist. The 34,682 on hand were so inspired by his ability to take over a game that the entire stadium broke out into chants of “Sign him up! Sign him up! Sign him up!” and “USA! USA! USA!”

Bear in mind, this is all for a guy that will representing the US this coming June, playing against the England national team in both teams’ first games of the 2010 World Cup.

English fans aren’t easily swayed, and for them to go gaga over an eventual enemy simply shows that Donovan was simply playing out of his mind across the pond. He fit in perfectly, filling the right flank void that proved to be the missing piece all year for Everton. Before Donovan joined, the team languished in 15th place. Now, as Donovan looks out to sea from his home in Manhattan Beach on a sunny day that is surely a far cry from the dismal weather of Liverpool, the team has a winning record, is in 9th place, and went 6-2-2 with Donovan in Premier League play, garnering massive wins over heavyweights Chelsea and Manchester United along the way.

Yet Donovan had to return to the Galaxy in time for the Major League Soccer season, which beings March 27, due to the loan agreement that allowed Donovan to stay in England only for three months to test the waters while still being owned by the Galaxy. As much as Everton wanted to extend his contract, the Galaxy simply wouldn’t listen to offers as their prized possession was always going to coming back to LA. (Especially now, since David Beckham is set to be out for the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon.)

But he shouldn’t have to. He has already done everything there is to do in MLS; he’s won multiple MLS Cups, including one with the Galaxy in 2005, he was MVP last year and the league’s leading scorer the year before. On a personal level, there is no room for improvement for Donovan in MLS except to lead the Galaxy to new heights.

Yet Donovan is in the prime of his career, and, at 28, it may be now or never to move on to Europe. Last December he signed a brand new 4-year, $9 million deal with the Galaxy, but if a team like Chelsea, who has been reportedly interested in him, comes through with a decent asking price, MLS and LA really should decide it’s time to let him go. As wonderful as it is as a U.S. soccer fan to see him gracing the Home Depot Center field and being one of the few great Americans to remain in MLS, Donovan won’t get any better staying home. Galaxy fans (American ones, of course) should also be fans of their national team, and in this case one’s country should step in front of club play.

That doesn’t mean he won’t be back in MLS. No one in their right mind should think that Donovan won’t close out his career in MLS, probably for the Galaxy. But his time to shine at the game’s top level is now; he can have four great years in Europe before returning to LA at 32, an age in which he should still be competitive and coming off another World Cup performance.

He is no doubt the best American player of his generation, and by jumping to that next level he can become a member of the world’s elite. While many Galaxy fans would completely disagree, Donovan has proven to the world he can be an tremendously intimidating force in the greatest league on the planet, and he should be able to continue that and improve his game even more.

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