CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Just a few months after Landon Donovan thought he might be finished with soccer, he re-signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday with his passion rekindled.
Donovan agreed to a multiyear contract extension that could make him the highest-paid player in MLS if he reaches incentives within the deal. His decision to stick with the Galaxy is another turn in an eventful year for the fleet-footed midfielder widely considered the best player in American history.
"I'm very proud of what I've accomplished," Donovan said at a news conference in an upscale club at StubHub Center. "I'm very happy in the present, but I have a lot more to achieve. This is not a reward for what I've done. This is something I'm going to earn."
The Galaxy did not announce terms of his contract. After winning his fifth MLS Cup title last December, the 31-year-old Donovan spent the winter on a self-imposed sabbatical, battling burnout and exhaustion from 14 years of pro soccer. He returned in late March to fulfill the final year of his current Galaxy contract, but missed the first month of the MLS season and fell out of favor with U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
But the top scorer in U.S. national team history has been rejuvenated by the Galaxy's unwavering support and his resurgence with the American team. With the perspective of time and distance, he has embraced the prospect of more challenges to chase, including a fourth World Cup appearance.
"Was this day ever in doubt? Yeah, for a lot of reasons," Donovan said. "I didn't know five months ago if I wanted to keep playing much longer. This summer, through a lot of work and through a lot of support from friends, family, the Galaxy, it's now very clear to me that I want to keep playing. I really enjoy this game. I love it. I've found my passion again, and I'm excited about it."
Donovan has been with the Galaxy since 2005, winning three of his five career MLS Cup titles in his native Southern California. Alongside David Beckham and Robbie Keane, the fleet-footed midfielder led Los Angeles to its second straight MLS championship last December before his break, which included a trip to Cambodia.
Now that he's back with MLS' glamour franchise as it closes in on another playoff spot for its title defense, Donovan decided he still has much more to do as a soccer trailblazer. Donovan is the third-leading goal-scorer in league history, trailing Jeff Cunningham by just three goals, but he's more interested in winning MLS trophies and fostering the game's U.S. growth.
"It's a tremendous signing, a historic signing for us," said Dan Beckerman, the CEO of Galaxy owners AEG. "It's overwhelming and staggering what he's accomplished in this league and his career. He's always demonstrated his commitment to growing soccer in this league and in this country. A lot of success that MLS has had is attributable to his effort."
Los Angeles patiently waited for Donovan to return to his current form while negotiating a long-term deal for his future. Donovan said the deal "was as much about respect and feeling wanted as anything," and the Galaxy made sure Donovan knew how much he means to the franchise and the American game.
"This is the place I want to end my career," Donovan said. "I've always wanted to be here. I've always wanted to play here. When other opportunities arose, they paled in comparison to playing here." Donovan, who previously played with Bayer Leverkusen and Everton, attracted attention from European clubs this year while his MLS future was uncertain. Donovan emerged from his hiatus and subsequent negotiations totally committed to MLS and the Galaxy, saying he's not even interested in going to Europe on loan during the winter.
"I've never made decisions for money, and I think I'm a much happier person for it," Donovan said. The Galaxy are grateful to hear he's comfortable and committed. Donovan is one of Los Angeles' three designated players — who can receiver higher salaries than MLS regulars — joining Irish national team star Keane and U.S. national team defender Omar Gonzalez.
"We think we've got three great designated players," said Bruce Arena, the Galaxy's longtime coach and general manager. "We couldn't be more thrilled to have them. I think we've got the three best in the league."
Donovan has more to accomplish in MLS, but he's also eager for more U.S. national team success. He has played a leading role on the last three World Cup teams while becoming the U.S. national team's career scoring leader in 150 appearances.
He returned to the international stage last month with a flourish, scoring five goals and showing off his remarkable playmaking ability while leading the Americans to the CONCACAF Gold Cup title. Donovan then scored four goals in the Galaxy's last three games since he returned from the tournament.
Donovan's return to the Galaxy is more good news for MLS, which welcomed U.S. star Clint Dempsey to Seattle this summer. Donovan believes the league has reached another superlative in its steady growth, and he wants to be part of it.
"I think we're seeing a little bit of a tipping point right now," Donovan said. "When you have a guy like Clint Dempsey, with all that he's done and 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 wants to stay here, it makes a big statement."