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Donovan's trial at Bayern could define legacy

Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - United States star Landon Donovan recently returned to Germany, and just Tuesday started a 10-day trial with Bayern Munich that could ultimately define his legacy.

Nearly a decade ago, long before Donovan emerged as American soccer's brightest star, German club Bayer Leverkusen signed the then 16-year-old to a contract.

Donovan became the youngest U.S. player to ever sign a professional contract to play overseas. Just a few years later during the 2000-01 season, Donovan earned a spot on Bayer Leverkusen's first team, but did not make an appearance for the club that season.

Although he remained Bayer's property until 2005, Donovan appeared in just nine matches for the Bundesliga club in all those years, and was largely considered a bust in Europe.

Donovan was shipped back across the Atlantic for the majority of those seasons, playing on loan in Major League Soccer. He thrived in MLS against far inferior opposition, leading his clubs (San Jose in 2001 and 2003, Los Angeles in 2005) to league titles in three of his first five seasons.

Landon Donovan's career is still largely defined by his failure in Europe.
Although the championships stopped a few years ago, Donovan's emergence for the Galaxy and the United States continued. He recently finished his strongest year in MLS with 20 goals and nine assists, even though he's now overshadowed on his own team by former England captain David Beckham.

In eight MLS seasons, Donovan has 84 goals and 69 assists. Still just 26, he is the all-time leading scorer for the U.S. with 37 goals, and has appeared in more than 100 matches. Arguably, no country suffers more when it loses a single player than the United States does when Donovan isn't available (even though the U.S. has made strides in quality over the years).

All in all, certainly not a bad career for a player with a lot of soccer left in front of him.

Yet, Donovan's career is still largely defined by his failure in Europe. Yes, he's been amazing in MLS and still remains the top threat on the United States.

Now, the 5-foot-8 striker/midfielder with Arnold Schwarzenegger-like calves and marathon-runner lungs, has a chance to rewrite the past if his trial turns into a contract with the best club in Germany.

"That's one of the best teams in the world...," Donovan wrote on his website. "If January rolls around and there's interest...I would be excited to talk about it.

"I would love to go."

Bayern coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who spent time with the Los Angeles Galaxy while he was away from coaching, has talked about adding Donovan for a long time. His trial could just be a way to prove to those in Munich that the U.S. star is ready to play in Germany again.

Or maybe just a way to get him familiar with the team.

"I know Landon from my time with LA Galaxy," Klinsmann said. "He is a fine lad, a very good footballer and a great personality in US soccer."

The problem? It's not just up to Donovan and Klinsmann.

Donovan will have to work with the Galaxy and the league to get the transfer signed, and that may be harder than his trial, although it would be unfortunate if those powers blocked the opportunity.

"The unfortunate part about the soccer world in that sense is that it isn't up to me," Donovan wrote on his website. "There are a lot of issues with the league and with the Galaxy also.

"Obviously, if I was in the Galaxy's position I wouldn't be totally for it but in my situation, I would love to go," he continued, "and if the opportunity comes and the league and the Galaxy are cooperative and willing to work with me, I think it would be fun.

"We'll see what happens."

Donovan will have to take the same approach if he does sign with Bayern Munich. The German giants have won 21 league championships and Europe's top club event, the Champions League, four times.

But as hard as it will be to crack the lineup, especially with the star power already at Bayern, a few breaks could have him on the field sooner rather than later.

Klinsmann would likely want to use Donovan as a striker, and there are currently just three on Bayern's roster - Italian World Cup winner Luca Toni, and Germans Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski.

Podolski has been upset with his playing time at Bayern, meaning it's possible he could leave this club this winter. Toni will start if he's healthy, but he's already missed time this year. Klose has struggled at times, but would have to likely be injured as well to lose his spot.

Remember, though, that Toni is 31 and Klose is 30. Neither is ready to pick out a rocking chair yet, but both are on borrowed time on the soccer field.

No one would be surprised if Donovan failed again. Heck, he might not even get on the field at such a prestigious club. But remember, Donovan is not a teenager anymore.

If there ever was a right time, Donovan's just arrived. Ultimately, it will be up to him to define his legacy.



Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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