Donovan likely is returning to MLS, but he's got plenty left to prove
Landon Donovan likely will return to the Galaxy after his Bayern Munich loan ends
Donovan has yet to score for Bayern despite ample opportunity to make impact
It's Donovan's third stint in Germany, yet still could make another move to Europe
Landon Donovan has gone overseas to try his luck in Germany three times over the course of his professional career. And for a third time, he may be heading back home in disappointment. Bayern Munich's recent struggles have made it almost certain that Donovan again will return to Major League Soccer rather than stay on with a Bundesliga club.
It's not as if Donovan has played horribly during his loan spell at Bayern. In fact, he was the team's leading scorer in its exhibition games during the winter break. Yet since league action resumed, Donovan -- who has seen action only coming off the bench -- has found it more difficult to make a positive impact.
Donovan got a big break after regular forward Luca Toni went down to injury last week, but the U.S. international failed to seize the opportunity on Saturday and didn't score a goal as Bayern lost to Cologne 2-1. Granted, Bayern was already down by two when Donovan entered the game, and he prevented an even worse loss by clearing a ball off the line. But the sort of eye-opening, heroic performance he needed to stake a permanent claim with Bayern simply wasn't there.
Oddly enough, Donovan's previous U.S. success has hobbled him a bit in Germany. Some abroad consider the label of "best American player" to be on par with the "biggest pony" -- they view Donovan's attempts at a career abroad as a lesser animal trying to run with thoroughbreds. However, what Donovan has achieved in MLS and with the U.S. national team makes him a valuable commodity in America.
That's why MLS Commissioner Don Garber specifically vowed that, for a foreign club to secure the 26-year-old Donovan's services, the league wouldn't accept a transfer price lower than the highest it has ever received. That puts a potential figure of at least $10 million, which MLS accepted for Jozy Altidore, out there to any interested clubs. It's a far, far cry from what Manchester City supposedly offered AC Milan for Kaká (less than seven percent, in fact). But it isn't especially cheap for someone who, as Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge pointed out recently, isn't a young project player.
The bottom line is that Bayern needs Donovan to be contributing greatly right now. "Not bad" isn't going to cut it when the Bundesliga title is slipping further away with every game.
So it isn't surprising that Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena has been far more clear on the status of one of his two players on loan than the other, one David Beckham. On Saturday, mere hours after Donovan walked off the field in Bayern's loss, Arena spoke specifically on how the Galaxy would improve with the striker's return.
"We need a little more speed in attack," Arena said. "I think Donovan will give us that when he comes back." Not "if," but "when" -- which then leads to the issue of whether the Galaxy will reclaim a discontented Donovan. After all, he said before the loan to Bayern that he was eager like never before to find success abroad.
Fellow Galaxy striker Edson Buddle didn't seem too concerned. "He's going to be a professional about it," Buddle said. "He's going to give his best, because he's Landon Donovan."
Buddle had the highest scoring output of his career playing with Donovan last season, racking up 15 goals alongside Donovan's MLS-best 20. "I play well with him," Buddle said. "I work well when I'm on the field with him. I hope he does come back. For my sake, and the team's sake, I'll be happy to see him."
Midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi, who played with Donovan on the Galaxy in 2006 and is now looking to rejoin the club, pointed out one of Donovan's main assets as a player: "He's a player who can change a game with his pace in front of goal."
Besides helping the Galaxy, Donovan also has an extra incentive to perform well, in both his remaining games with Bayern and once he returns to L.A. Many have speculated for some time that perhaps Germany isn't the best fit for his skills.
Yet even without signing him permanently to the club, Bayern is still a primetime chance for Donovan to showcase his talents, especially with an opportunity to contribute in Bayern's Champions League round-of-16 match at Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday. Other clubs might decide Donovan's talents are useful to them, and the summer transfer marker could bring offers from clubs in different leagues.
Arena didn't discount that possibility. "Can we lose players in the transfer market?" he said, dodging the specifics of Donovan's case. "Perhaps."
Andrea Canales is chief editor of Goal.com USA.