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SOCCER

Landon Donovan to stay with Galaxy

Team's captain and leading scorer signs a four-year contract that will keep him in Los Angeles through 2013.

December 17, 2009|By Kevin Baxter
  • Landon Donovan led the Galaxy to the Western Conference title and a spot in the MLS Cup championship last season.
Landon Donovan led the Galaxy to the Western Conference title and a spot… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

The Galaxy invited season-ticket holders to a lunch-time news conference Wednesday and many fans expected the team to announce that forward Landon Donovan would be leaving for the English Premier League.

Instead, the team announced its captain and leading scorer had signed a four-year contract that would keep him in Los Angeles through 2013.

"Thank you, Landon!" one fan shouted at Donovan, who responded with a shy grin.

And Donovan had reason to smile -- millions of them -- since the value of his contract more than doubles the $900,000 base salary he got from the Galaxy last season, when he led it to the Major League Soccer championship game and was selected the league's most valuable player.

It also includes an out that allows him to play overseas during the MLS off-season, a clause the 27-year-old Donovan already has taken advantage of by agreeing in principle to a 10-week winter loan with Everton of the English Premier League. That deal could be announced officially this week.

But while those things weighed heavily in Donovan's decision to give the prime years of his soccer career to the Galaxy, the most important factor was the team itself.

"I did a lot of thinking about it," he said. "Obviously, there's a lot of security in where I'm going to be. But I think most of all, this team in the last year has taken a dramatic turn.

"I like being here. I like being part of this organization. And I want to be part of the future. It's a perfect fit for me."

A Southern California native, Donovan has spent the last five years with the Galaxy, leading it in goals each season. But the team failed to qualify for the playoffs three times in that span, changing head coaches four times before it turned to former U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena.

"The future looks good," Donovan said. "This team looks stable now. Candidly, a year ago I wouldn't have made this decision."

Said Arena: "It gives us a great deal of stability. Not only is Landon a great player for us, but he's our leader. He's our captain. To have that as your building block is fabulous."

As for the loan to Everton, terms of the deal are under review by lawyers from both sides, but Donovan is expecting to report to Liverpool, where Everton plays, on New Year's Day as part of his preparation for next summer's World Cup in South Africa. He'll rejoin the Galaxy in mid-March, about two weeks before the defending Western Conference champion opens the 2010 season against New England.

That schedule probably will force Donovan to not play in the first game next year on the U.S. national team's pre-World Cup schedule, a Jan. 23 friendly with Honduras at the Home Depot Center

"With the national team, Bob [head coach Bob Bradley] has always been great with me," said Donovan, the all-time U.S. leader in international goals and assists. "And we've had very open conversations about all this stuff; to cut down on some of the friendlies or the non-obligatory games so that I can end up playing a little bit longer." However, Donovan is expected to leave Everton for the U.S. team's March 3 game with the Netherlands in Amsterdam.

If the Everton deal goes through, it will mark Donovan's fourth try at European soccer.

As a 16-year-old, he signed a six-year deal with Bayer Leverkusen but didn't play a game before returning to the U.S. in 2001. He rejoined Leverkusen four years later and started twice before coming home again to join the Galaxy. And earlier this year, he made five Bundesliga appearances and played in one German Cup game while on loan to Bayern Munich.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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