MLS Should Set Landon Donovan Free

Shady BotrosAnalyst IAugust 9, 2010

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 20:  Landon Donovan of Everton during the Barclays Premiership match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on February 20, 2010 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

While the English Premier League season kicking off in less than a week, we know American star Landon Donovan won’t be playing in England this year, but across the Atlantic for his hometown Galaxy. Donovan had spent three months with Everton in the EPL last season, this year however a transfer to the premier league looks highly unlikely.

MLS commissioner Don Garber has put a hefty price on Donovan in order to keep Donovan in the states. Garber realizes that Donovan is the face of American soccer, the most recognizable American soccer player, and the best player the country has ever produced, he feels the league needs Donovan in order to succeed, but does Donovan need MLS?

 I understand that Garber wants to keep the best American player in America, but how does keeping Donovan in the MLS validate US soccer around the world? Which is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better if America had its best player playing overseas against better competition, proving that the US can produce world class soccer players?

Garber said “MLS needs soccer heroes, and we have a great American soccer hero playing for us in LA, holding the torch for the sport in our country, and that’s very important. I don’t believe that it’s something we can do without.” However Garber is disregarding the fact that Donovan may have outgrown MLS and it may be time to let Donovan play overseas against stronger competition for the long term.

By keeping Donovan in the MLS, not only is Garber hurting Landon Donovan’s development, but the credibility of US soccer. Considering Donovan is coming off his best season overseas, why keep him in MLS where he won’t develop or continue to show the rest of the world that he can play on the world stage. 

At Everton Donovan was terrific, with Donovan Everton went 7-4-2, including wins over Chelsea and Manchester United. In the world cup finals, Donovan had three goals in four games, including an extra time goal against Algeria that allowed the US team to move on past the group stage. His time at Everton and in the world cup finals validated his status as a world class player.

At 28, Donovan is at the prime of his career, and his experience overseas has been limited. After appearances with Bayern Leverkusen and Bayern Munich, where Donovan got limited playing time, and three months at Everton, it’s time for Donovan to at least have the chance to play overseas for the long term, considering he’s at the prime of his career now.

After the world cup, Donovan drew great interest from the premier league. Teams like Everton and Manchester City, took a serious look at Donovan, however they were scared off by the price tag.  

Everton manger David Moyes would he’d love to have Donovan back, but Everton doesn’t have the finances to overpay for Donovan. Moyes said "Don't you think I've asked my chairman to make it happen? We'd love to have Landon but he looks too expensive for us and we just don't have it ... The price the MLS want for him is very big and it's an additional problem because of his age (28)."

MLS has put this hefty price on Donovan that has made it impossible for Donovan to play overseas. Garber claims it’s Galaxy and Donovan’s decision by saying "I am pleased that he renegotiated his deal for several more years and I hope that he will stay here for the rest of his career ... (but) it's not my decision, it's Landon's decision and L.A. Galaxy's decision." But by putting this hefty transfer fee on Donovan, Garber has done the exact opposite and gained full control of Donovan’s future.

  Donovan did sign a contract that would allow him to be a member of the Galaxy through 2013, but having Donovan continue to perform at a high level overseas not only allows Donovan to grow as a player, but it adds needed credibility to US soccer, and MLS.

Garber is selfishly keeping Donovan in MLS, but in reality it’s in everyone’s best interest if Donovan is playing at the highest level.

If Donovan continues to succeed overseas, MLS gains credibility as a potential hotbed for talent. More of the top teams in the world will want to continue to schedule exhibition games against MLS teams, more European players will want to come play in America, and most importantly more scouts will come to America and recruit, therefore improving the reputations of US soccer and MLS.  

Right now MLS is light years behind the top leagues in the world. MLS did take a step forward when many of the top teams in the world scheduled exhibition games against MLS teams. However the results showed that MLS is still ways away from competing with Europe’s elite. These exhibition games proved that MLS is making progress, but the gap remains huge. MLS is four or five years away from significantly improving and by then Donovan may be past his prime.

MLS commissioner Don Garber and the LA Galaxy need to lower the steep price for Donovan, and set him free. It’s the best option for Donovan, US soccer, and maybe even MLS in the long term.