Landon Donovan returns to Everton
The Galaxy's captain is returning to Everton on a two-month loan deal and will miss the bulk of the MLS Cup champions' preparations for the 2012 campaign. He'll be eligible to play for the Toffees on Jan. 4 against Bolton and will return to L.A. following the Merseyside derby clash at Liverpool on Feb. 25.
The Galaxy play the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series with Toronto FC on March 7 in Toronto. They open their Major League Soccer season three days later at Home Depot Center.
Donovan became a fan favorite during 10 weeks at Everton before the 2010 season. He scored twice in 13 appearances and won the club's Player of the Month honor, leading manager David Moyes to look, without success, into acquiring Donovan full-time.
"The opportunity to return to Everton and play for such a well-respected club and a manager that I hold in such high regard was something that was simply too good to pass up," Donovan said in a club statement. "I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Everton in 2010, and I'm hopeful that we can experience similar success this time around."
Donovan had said late during the MLS season that he was unlikely to accept a loan move, but he also said Everton was the only English club he'd consider playing for. Negotiations began earlier this week and were finalized Thursday. The transfer window in England opens Jan. 1.
"I would entertain anything, but the main elements for me are being physically and mentally ready to go next year. For [the Galaxy]," Donovan said when asked last month if he'd consider a loan deal. "And if anything is going to impede that, I'm not going to do it. ...
"I learned a lot this year about my body, and I was probably a little lazy at points this year with things that probably would have let me hold up better at the end of the year. So I want to be better in those areas. The first part is to start from scratch next year, and you don't start from scratch if you're training and playing all winter during the offseason."
Donovan, limited by injuries to 34 of 46 competitive matches for the Galaxy this season, was the club's MVP, an MLS Best XI selection, and he finished fourth in the league's MVP balloting. Playing primarily as a right-sided midfielder, he scored goals in a dozen league games, three more in the MLS Cup playoffs and another as the Galaxy advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
His move to forward in the second half was the key tactical move in the MLS Cup final, and he scored the lone goal to beat the Houston Dynamo for the title.
"This is a great opportunity for Landon," Galaxy coach and general manager Bruce Arena in a statement. "During the final months of the 2011 season, he was limited because of an ongoing injury, and he just started to get his legs back during the playoffs. Therefore, I think that this opportunity with Everton comes at a perfect time, as he is rested and ready to go."
Said Moyes, in a statement released by Everton: "I am delighted that we have managed to get Landon back. He will give us some good experience over January and February. He did well for us when he was over two years ago and hopefully will return with those same qualities. His [MLS] season has just finished, and like last time we need him to hit the ground running, because the games come thick and fast at this time of year."
Donovan, who first emerged with the U.S. under-17 national team as it prepared for a semifinal run at the 1999 U-17 World Cup, has had four short stints in Europe, three of them rather unhappy experiences.
He signed at 16 with Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, playing primarily for its reserve side before going to the San Jose Earthquakes on loan in 2001. He has spoken about his loneliness as a teen in Germany and difficulties making friends within the club.
After helping the Quakes to two MLS Cup titles, he returned to Leverkusen, endured another unhappy stint and engineered a transfer to the Galaxy. He returned to Germany in 2009, when Jurgen Klinsmann was manager, with a winter loan to Bayern Munich that also did not go well.
The opportunity to go to Everton the following year was far sweeter, and his skill and work ethic won admirers in Germany. His time there helped prepare him for a super 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Scott French covers soccer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.