Donovan's deal proves what we knew all along -- he belongs in L.A.
Landon Donovan remained a member of the L.A. Galaxy during his extended offseason sabbatical. He just wasn't wearing a jersey.
"Landon does countless things for our organization that never hit print or never hit the Internet. They never hit the TV," Galaxy president Chris Klein told SI.com. "Landon made sales calls in our preseason this year. This was before he came back. Calling our customers, our supporters. He was on the phone speaking to them. He came in and talked to our staff numerous times -- sponsorship, ticket sales, marketing. He does so many things with our foundation. The requests aren't made public and he told me and people inside our club that he was willing and able to do those things as we request them."
Donovan, according to Klein, "is ingrained in our organization."
There shouldn't have been any doubt that Donovan would remain with the Galaxy, despite the interest from foreign clubs. L.A. is home. And that matters as much as ever to a man now positioned to conclude his career as the most influential and decorated player in American soccer history.
On Wednesday afternoon at the StubHub Center, the Galaxy and Donovan, 31, will announce a new, multi-year designated player contract. Now just four inevitable goals away from becoming the league's all-time regular season scoring champion, Donovan surely will receive a nice raise from the $2.5 million he'll earn this season. That figure currently is the fifth-highest annual wage in MLS, which probably doesn't do justice to a player who's done so much to grow the game.
Additional background about Donovan's decision likely will emerge on Wednesday, but it certainly seems Clint Dempsey's move to the Seattle Sounders may have set things in motion. Dempsey is just one year younger than Donovan and established a new benchmark for an American star in his prime by inking a 3.5-year deal worth at least $5.04 million per season, according to the MLS Players Union.
Donovan hadn't spent much time with the press since returning from his prolonged offseason. He'd indicated that the spotlight had become stressful and superfluous. But less than two weeks after Dempsey signed his jaw-dropping contract, Donovan was in front of Fox Soccer Daily's cameras, apparently ready to kick off his own contract negotiation.
"We have received offers from teams in different countries that are intriguing," he said when asked about his plans for 2014. "I'm still going to speak with the Galaxy and see how they value me and see where they want to go going forward, but I'm really open in a way I haven't been before. In the past, I was pretty content to stay in L.A. But if it doesn't work out and we can't come to an agreement here, then I'm ready for a different challenge and we'll see what happens."
Then, just a week later, the messaging changed dramatically. On Aug. 21, Donovan sat on a Time Warner Cable SportsNet sofa, claimed that "life's been really good lately," and said that only "(the Galaxy) telling me they don't want me" would prevent him from wearing L.A. white next year.
"Obviously as you get older, you only have so many more opportunities to do the things you want to do," he said. "Obviously financially, things come into play. So all things being equal, I would love to be here. We're working towards that and I'm hopeful that will happen."
What happened between those two interviews? Did he have some kind of epiphany? Did Galaxy owner Phil Anschutz show up on Donovan's Manhattan Beach door with a box of chocolate and a key to the AEG vault?
Either way, it was all part of the process. Donovan played his part and put a bit of public pressure on the club by teasing a potential move. A source with knowledge of the negotiations told SI.com that his (or more likely, his agent's) phone was "off the hook with prospective teams with offers."
Perhaps Donovan also needed to say and hear the words out loud -- "teams in different countries" -- in order to make the prospect seem a bit more real. The more he mulled the possibility of a parallel universe where he was far from the support and stability he needs, the less likely it became.
That's because Donovan has been, and always will be, a player fueled by the familiar. He told TWC that spending time with his family while he was on break, especially his new nephew, "helps put things in perspective" and that, "I really feel the way I felt when I was 20 years old."
Soccer became fun again, and it shows. Donovan absolutely dominated the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup, tallying five goals as the U.S. stormed to the title, and already has seven goals and seven assists in 16 MLS games with L.A.
"I go out to practice, I'm excited to be there," he told TWC. "I don't think about 'Oh, this hurts or that hurts.' Everything feels good. I'm just playing free. I'm playing carelessly and it's been a lot of fun."
Donovan finds his strength in foundation and a sense of belonging. His performance over the past two months confirms it. He was refueled and replenished after returning to his roots. The only reason to leave L.A. would have been to alter his legacy in order to satisfy critics claiming he sold himself short by not testing his talents in Europe. When Dempsey -- so often cast as the anti-Donovan -- returned from England, it confirmed that there are plenty of valid reasons to stick with MLS.
All that was left was for the Galaxy to make its commitment, and Klein told SI.com last week -- before Donovan's new deal came to light -- that legacy and commitment weren't going to be an issue.
"It is a priority for us. We want him to retire in an L.A. Galaxy uniform. I'm sure he would have offers to go play elsewhere, but I think when it's all said and done, there's more he wants to accomplish here and we have more we want to accomplish with him," Klein said.
"When he leaves this game and leaves this league, there should be no doubt about his stamp. And you don't want to go too far in saying this, but you look at the impact that a Wayne Gretzky or a Michael Jordan, what they meant for their sport in this country, and Landon is undeniably our country's best player. He has been for some time now and he's been our league's best player over the course of our history."
Klein, L.A. coach Bruce Arena and AEG had that in mind when they decided not to match Seattle's offer for Dempsey. The Galaxy president said that it wasn't the pending DP deal for defender Omar Gonzalez that stayed his hand when Dempsey became available -- it was about the club's feelings for Donovan.
"Any time there's a big DP mentioned, our name always gets thrown around and we will always casually consider it," Klein said. "We feel that we have our country's best player already playing for us and it was a priority to re-sign him. That was a conscious decision and that's something we didn't make lightly and we intend to move forward with Landon."
And on Wednesday -- as MLS's most successful team and player celebrate a renewal of vows that never really was in any doubt -- they will. L.A. is where Donovan feels and plays his best. It's where his legend will continue to flower. It's where he belongs.