Like his Galaxy teammate David Beckham, Landon Donovan says he wants to stay in Europe.
The question: Should MLS and the Galaxy fulfill his wish?
The answer: Not just yet.
Donovan's been with Bayern Munich for about a month, trained with the team through its winter break, and played 13 minutes as a substitute in a 1-0 loss to Hamburg as the second half of the season got underway. He'll play maybe a half-dozen more games before he's due to come back in early March.
He's yet to truly experience what it means to play for this powerful club, the New York Yankees of German soccer who have fans in every city yet are the most despised club by everyone else. All he's known so far is the praise of Coach Juergen Klinsmann and some approving comments from general manager Uli Hoeness, but that is likely to change unless Bayern storms through its final 16 matches unbeaten.
Donovan's yet to get ripped in the voracious German press for missing a few chances, or to hear whistles and jeers when he flubs a trap. By losing to Hamburg, Bayern dropped to fourth in the Bundesliga, and with the European transfer window set to close Monday, only through domestic loans or signing free agents can a team alter is roster until the end of the season.
Thus the scrutiny for big clubs like Bayern will fall upon those January changes and how much those players have helped. Donovan is clearly capable of contributing and Klinsmann will certainly give him his opportunities, but only time - and results - will tell how he handles coming off the bench to replace forwards Luca Toni or Miroslav Klose. Playing all three of them has also been suggested; that would heap more pressure on his shoulders but also free him to get a lot of starts. He replaced midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger against Hamburg.
Donovan's also yet to jet back and forth across the Atlantic to play qualifiers, starting - presumably - next week for the USA-Mexico chill-thrill in Columbus, and the March 28-April 1 double-dip that follows. He cares deeply about playing for his country and by his own admission doesn't always travel well. Those trips back to the USA could refresh and invigorate him, or brutally grind him down. The only way to find out about the double-dip is to extend the loan.
MLS officials, of course, are panicked by the possibility of losing both Beckham and Donovan from a team that desperately needs star power. But in the case of Donovan, their best bet, or rather their most hopeful hedge, would be to extend his loan, let Bayern keep him until its season ends in May, give him a few days off, then dispatch him to join the U.S. team for its qualifiers in early June and preparations for the Confederations Cup.
He'd miss MLS action during those phases anyway, and by the time he'd returned from the Confederations Cup, the U.S. transfer window would have re-opened and, again presumably, he'd have a much clearer idea - as would Bayern - if they still fancied each other.
True, he'd miss the first two months of the MLS season by staying with Bayern, and there's no getting around the hardship that would be for Coach Bruce Arena and the Galaxy. But if by midsummer the Bayern-Donovan relationship had yet to fizzle out, MLS would either have to drag him back to the Galaxy, or initiate serious negotiations for a transfer. It doesn't seem ready to do so at this point and could use a few more months to address losing Donovan.
Extending the loan, despite its complexities, is the fairest thing MLS can do for Donovan, who has to be commended for leaving behind his LA dream life and toughing it out in Europe.