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Donovan joins San Jose

By Greg Beacham, The Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. Landon Donovan's promising soccer career stalled in Germany. He hopes to revive it a whole lot closer to home.

Donovan, considered one of the top American soccer players, signed a four-year contract with Major League Soccer on Thursday and was assigned to the San Jose Earthquakes.

The 19-year-old forward was allowed to move to MLS by Bayer Leverkusen of the German Bundesliga, which signed him to a four-year contract two years ago. He never got into a game with the German club, and after several frustrating months abroad, he jumped at the chance to return to his home state.

"I felt to maximize my potential, I needed to be somewhere I could play," Donovan said. "I'm going to be here for a couple of years, and hopefully I'll improve my play. I don't know how much they expect, but I hope it's not too much."

Bayer Leverkusen, which used Donovan in its reserves, has the option of reacquiring him in two years. Until then, Donovan will focus exclusively on MLS and his national team duties.

The signing is a coup for MLS, which spent weeks working to acquire Donovan's rights.

"We don't want to place undue expectations on Donovan," said Earthquakes general manager Tom Neale.

"That said, Landon symbolizes a lot for American soccer and for youth soccer in this country."

The Earthquakes won the inside track on Donovan's rights by virtue of their last-place finish in 2000. After the franchise came close to folding or moving last season, the Earthquakes have been stabilized by an agreement in which the NHL's San Jose Sharks took over the team's operations.

New coach Frank Yallop said Donovan would immediately move into the Earthquakes' starting lineup alongside El Salvadorian forward Ronald Cerritos.

Donovan said he spoke with U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena before making the move.

"He wants me to play somewhere," Donovan said. "If I didn't start playing, my immediate future with the national team was somewhat limited."

The Redlands, Calif., native has starred on several U.S. youth teams, including the fourth-place Olympic squad last year. He was MVP of the 1999 FIFA Under-17 Championship.

In October, he scored against Mexico in his debut with the U.S. national team. He has made five appearances with the national team, all in exhibition games.

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