Donovan happy to stay in the USA
By RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Landon Donovan is staying right at home, just the way he wanted.
The 20-year-old sensation, who scored two goals for the United States at the World Cup, didn't want to return to Germany, where Bayer Leverkusen owns his rights. Under an agreement finalized this week, the forward will remain with Major League Soccer through the 2004 season.
The German club then can either repurchase his rights, or decline the option, which would allow MLS to retain Donovan on a longterm contract.
``I know there are quite a few people, my family included, who are extremely happy to have me here,'' Donovan said during a telephone conference call. ``But I am by far one of the happiest people on earth right now.''
Donovan has seven goals in 29 games with the national teams since his international debut in October 2000, and coach Bruce Arena expects him to become a team leader by the time qualifying for the next World Cup starts in 2004.
``He is a player that will probably hit 100 caps very fast in his career,'' Arena said Tuesday. ``It is time to look real hard in building this team around Landon, so certainly in the next year we will be giving him a lot of responsibility, until he gets comfortable in becoming one of our veteran players.''
Bayer Leverkusen, which signed him as a 16-year-old, agreed to let him join MLS and the San Jose Earthquakes before the 2001 season, and Donovan didn't want to go back to Germany, where he didn't get into any games.
Bayer Leverkusen, which lost the European Champions Cup final to Real Madrid in May, is struggling this season, 14th in the German Bundesliga at 5-7-5 and 0-2 in the second round of the European Champions League.
``It would have been easy for them to say that one way to help turn the season around is to bring Landon back and maybe that would make things better,'' Donovan said. ``They chose the better, more humane option if you will, and said they would look at me as a person and not only as a player, and that if that was what I wanted to do they would help accommodate me. I am forever indebted to them for that because it's definitely not a decision they had to make.''
Donovan knows that if he returned to Europe and became a top scorer, it was raise his profile among the world's top clubs.
``Many people said I'd go and play and make a lot of money and everything would be great,'' he said. ``But you never know. I don't know that I'm going to start every week in San Jose, but I know that regardless I'm going to live a good life and be happy.
``Maybe three games from now, if I had gone back to Germany, they fire the coach and a new coach comes in and he doesn't like me for whatever reason and I'm back in the same situation. You can't predict those things. What I can predict is that I'm going to be happy in San Jose, in America. It wasn't appealing for me to go back to Germany, at least not now. A lot of U.S. players overseas don't play for whatever reason and I can speak from experience that it's miserable when you're not playing.''
Donovan is expected to be part of the U.S. Olympic team in 2004, but that's secondary to qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, which will be played in Germany.
The U.S. national team resumes training Jan. 4, and has upcoming exhibition games against Canada (Jan. 18), Argentina (Feb. 8) and Jamaica (Feb. 12) to prepare for two tournaments in 2003: the FIFA Confederations Cup (June 18-29) and the CONCACAF Gold Cup (July 12-27), which is the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
``There's a lot more pressure now,'' Donovan said. ``We're not hopeful to win games but we're expected to win games. That's good because that's what makes you better.
``The goal for the 2006 World Cup is to win it. If you don't set your goals to win it then you're selling yourself short.''
MLS also announced its contract extension with F Brian McBride, who plays for the Columbus Crew. McBride has been picked for all seven MLS All-Star games despite missing parts of the 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2002 seasons with injuries that included a severely sprained right ankle, a swollen right eye, a sprained right knee and a broken right cheekbone. ``Day in and day out, Brian gives to this sport,'' MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said. ``Whether it's giving up his body or his autograph, he is absolutely selfless.'
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