By DAN KARELL
When the Los Angeles Galaxy announced on Wednesday that they had signed Landon Donovan to a new long-term contract, it not only sent a message to the world of the financial power of Major League Soccer, but it also sent a message to members of the U.S. Men’s National Team that MLS is a plausible option.
The 2013 calendar year has been a crucial and successful one for MLS, in terms of keeping their American talent while reeling in foreign-based stars. In the last eight months alone, Sporting KC and USMNT starters Matt Besler and Graham Zusi have signed multi-year contract extensions with their club, while the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez two-weeks ago became the first American to earn a designated player contract.
Add to that the additions this summer of Clint Dempsey, Clarence Goodson, and USMNT pool players Carlos Bocanegra and Charlie Davies and you have a league that high-profile American players want to continue their careers in.
“I think it’s a fantastic statement by our league and by our players,” Donovan said during his contract-signing press conference on Wednesday. “I think it’s a tipping point and I think you’re seeing things change. All my career I’ve been here (in MLS) and it’s helped me and enabled me to play well with the national team.”
Added Donovan: “When you have a guy like Clint Dempsey with all that he’s done, the player that he is, wanting to be in our league, it makes a big statement. When you have a young defender who has a plethora of options, and Omar (Gonzalez) wants to stay here, it makes a big statement.”
Despite enduring plenty of criticism throughout his career, Donovan has remained in the league every year since he made his debut for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001, and he has no qualms with his decision based on how his career has played out. And although he had a number of overseas options, Donovan made clear during the press conference that he was more than happy to remain with the Galaxy.
“For all the people who are so excited to talk about Europe and playing in Europe, there’s a handful of players that go to Europe and never play or go to Europe and their careers don’t go as well as players in the states,” Donovan said.
Donovan figures to be in the squad for the next batch of World Cup qualifiers, where he’ll likely join MLS players like Zusi, Besler, Gonzalez, Dempsey, and Goodson in the U.S. squad to face Costa Rica and Mexico.
As MLS continues to strive towards being one of the best leagues in the world by 2022, the fact that a large chunk of the contributors play week in and week out back home is a sign that they’re moving in the right direction.
“This league has improved every year I’ve been here,” Donovan said. “When you watch games in our league now, they’re real soccer games. You see many comments from players who come from Europe and say ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how hard this league is, I didn’t realize how good this league is, I didn’t realize how talented the players are in this league’.
“We’re trying to build that and I’m proud to be a part of it.”