San Jose nabs Donovan in complex loan deal with Bayer Leverkusen.
SAN JOSE, Calif. (Friday, March 30, 2001) -- Teen-aged striker Landon Donovan joined the San Jose Earthquakes yesterday in a complex deal in which he signed a four-year Major League Soccer contract, but is guaranteed to be with the team only for 2001.
"As of right now, I'm playing with MLS," Donovan said. "I'm not looking at this as a way to help me in Germany, I'm here to help MLS and to help this team. If Bayer decides to exercise their right to get me back then I'll focus my attention on that, but right now I'm just focusing on playing here."
Donovan has become a mainstay with the current U.S. men and under-20s, and appeared last summer with the Olympic team after first blossoming with the U.S. under-17 men.
He is first the property of the German Bundesligaís Bayer Leverkusen which reportedly extended his contract two years through the 2006-07 season. Technically, Donovan was loaned to MLS. After playing the 2001 American season, he can be recalled by Leverkusen only if he makes its first team. MLS is counting on that not happening for at least two or three years.
"I just want to be someplace where I can play, and the first option that came to mind was to play in MLS and that happened to work out well." Donovan said. "I'm here to help the team win and to help us get to the playoffs and hopefully win an MLS Cup. I've been here just a couple of hour and itís been an incredible experience so far. Everything has been really professional and everyone has been very welcoming here."
San Jose owned MLSís first "allocation" by virtue of having the leagueís worst record in 2000 and took Donovan, resisting trade offers from the Los Angeles Galaxy. The price of the loan was not disclosed, but MLS is believed to have paid in excess of $1 million.
"Once we knew there was a chance we could get him, as a coach I was thrilled to get a player of his caliber," said new Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop. "Although he's a young man, he's proved that he's a very good player. He's going to be a great asset to us and the league, and I'm sure he's going to be a bright star of the future."
This native of Ontario, Calif. in the Los Angeles area, Donovan became one of the youngest Americans ever to sign a professional contract overseas when he signed with Leverkusen in February of 1999. He has been playing with the Leverkusen reserve team, but has not come close to cracking the first side, disappointing the player. The German club was of the opinion that regular playing time and being close to home would speed Donovanís maturity on and off the field, thus sought the loan deal.
Though it has been denied by MLS officials, Nike, which has Donovan under contract, was believed to be involved in the negotiations and to have contributed money to the deal.
"The acquisition of Landon is an extremely positive step for the Earthquakes, MLS, and U.S. soccer," said Earthquakes general manager Tom Neale. "This signing represents another example of MLS' ability to bring the top, young American players into the league, as well as the desire of these players to be a part of MLS. For the Earthquakes and SVS&E, it demonstrates our organization's commitment to our fans to improve our product on the field and win."
Donovan spent a year in full-time residence with the U.S. under-17s. In 41 international matches with that team, he struck for 35 goals and 16 assists. In the 1999 world championships, he was honored with the "Golden Ball" as the tournament "Most Valuable Player" after scoring three game-winning goals, leading the U.S. to a fourth-place finish.
In 2000, he was an integral part of the under-23 men who finished fourth in the Sydney Olympics. In 15 appearances, he scored nine goals and recorded one assist. In the victory over Guatemala which clinched advancement to the Summer Games, he notched two goals and then scored against Kuwait in the final game of the Olympics preliminary round.
His strong play with the under-23s helped him earn his first call-up to the U.S. full national team by coach Bruce Arena. In his first outing, against Mexico last October 25, he became one of only six players since 1985 to score a goal in his first appearance with the senior team. He also added an assist in the match to help the U.S. to a 2-0 victory.
He had five goals and five assists in five games for the national under-20s who advanced to this summerís world championships in Argentina. In two games in the regional qualifying tournament earlier this month, he had one goal and two assists, both decisive victories, 5-0 over Guatemala and 5-1 over host Trinidad & Tobago.
Thus far in 2001, he made three appearances with the full side and has become a fixture in Arena's national plans. He registered an assist in a 2-1 win over China January 27 in Oakland.
"I am excited to be playing in the United States," said Donovan. "I think that San Jose is a good situation for me and I am looking forward to helping this team win some games. It is going to be a challenge, but with the talent on this team, we should have a strong season."
Donovanís arrival gives San Jose four players who are presently regulars with their national teams: veteran U.S. defender Jeff Agoos, midfielder Ronald Cerritos (El Salvador) and striker Dwayne DeRosari (Canada).
"I'm looking to play up him up front where he can be dangerous," Yallop said. "He's a goal scorer, and goal scorers need to play up front. Actually between Landon, Ronald Cerritos and Dwayne DeRosario, I think we'll have a pretty good fit up front."
The Earthquakes also waived forward Corey Woolfolk, a 2001 fifth-round draft pick from Stanford.