- Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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CARSON, Calif. -- Los Angeles Galaxy captain Landon Donovan returned to the team Wednesday after a 10-week loan to English Premier League club Everton. Donovan had unsuccessfully pushed to have his loan extended before returning although his stay stateside could be short-lived if Major League Soccer and the players' association are unable to settle on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Donovan will fly to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to participate in negotiations between MLS and the MLS Players Union. If a new CBA cannot be agreed to by Monday the union is prepared to strike four days before the MLS season is scheduled to kick off in Seattle on March 25 with a game between the Sounders and the expansion Philadelphia Union.
"There are realities to the business that we're in and unfortunately for too long the business has been one-sided," Donovan said. "We need basic rights if we're going to continue playing. We want rights that are afforded to other players in other countries around the world that we don't have here."
The labor contract in MLS expired in January but was extended twice as negotiations for a new deal continued. Last week, however, players voted to strike if a deal cannot be made before the season opener. The players are hoping for free agency, more guaranteed contracts and a larger percentage of MLS revenues. While the league, which owns all player contracts, seems willing to budge on some demands, they are steadfast in their refusal of free agency.
Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG, which owns the Galaxy, said this week he feels talk of a player strike is disrespectful to the league and AEG, which has spent about $300 million on soccer and at one point owned six of the 10 teams to keep the league alive.
"I don't even know how to react when I hear the players now saying that we have treated them poorly and they're going to strike," he told the Los Angeles Times. "The fact is, the Galaxy isn't going to make money this year. There are only a couple of [MLS] teams that will make money this year."
Donovan said he didn't have a problem with Leiweke but admitted his situation with the Galaxy is different than what other players around the league are experiencing. "Not all the teams treat their players the same way," he said. "We need to ensure that players are treated the right way around the league if we're going to play.
Donovan admitted he agreed with many of Leiweke's statements.
"Tim more than anybody has put his neck on the line for this league and for players in our league but what was not accurate was all the talk of how much money is affecting this," Donovan said. "I think we've made it clear from the beginning that we're not into the idea of bankrupting the league and asking for tons of monetary increases. We just want basic rights other players around the world get."
The problem with a growing league like MLS going on strike, however, is the potential it may never recover from such a setback and simply fold if a company like AEG believes it isn't worth the trouble. AEG has insisted strike or not, that it is still committed to soccer in the U.S.
"I'm a big sports fan and I followed other sports leagues through strikes, lockouts and other work stoppages. It's hard to know how the fans will react," Donovan said. "We take that into consideration. Nobody wants to go on strike if it can be avoided but there are certain conditions we have to have and can't accept any longer because it's just not fair. We are very unified in the way we think."
If the Galaxy is able to play this season, it seems it will do so without star midfielder David Beckham, who tore his Achilles tendon last week during a game for AC Milan, and is expected to miss at least six months.
"For our team it's devastating but that's not the important part," Donovan said. "I think we all feel bad for David. We all know what he put in to give himself a chance of playing in the World Cup. He sacrificed more than anyone in the world to have a chance at playing in the World Cup. When you do that and something like this happens, it's awful. As much as we know it's going to hurt our team, it's still fresh in our minds and we feel bad for David."
While Donovan said he doesn't want to see the players strike and will try to be "unemotional" and "rational" during negotiations, he said there was a chance he would go back to play at Everton if a strike did arise.
"There's nothing concrete set up," he said. "I know we've all been very clear about the possibility that I could go back if something happens. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. Everyone on this side of the pond is hopeful that we can still get a deal done."
Donovan enjoyed his time in Everton so much he was hoping to stay beyond his return date and smiled when asked about the possibility of returning to the club in the future.
"If I ever went back to England I would only want to play for Everton," he said.
"It was bittersweet to leave, but the reality is the agreement all along was for me to be there until March 15 and I'm a big part of the [Galaxy] and I understand that and I enjoy being a part of this team and I wouldn't have made the commitment I did to this team if I didn't want to be here. Obviously you get caught up in what's going on and it was fun and exciting to be a part of what I was just a part of. You can't mirror that in anyway. You can't duplicate that, but the reality is I'm very excited to be home. If fate comes around again and I'm meant to go back then I'll go back."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Landon Donovan returned to the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday with his focus on participating in MLS labor negotiations.