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Donovan's Bayern dream nears end
by Mike Woitalla, February 27th, 2009 7AM
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[AMERICANS ABROAD] Bayern Munich will aim to pull itself out of its Bundesliga slump when it clashes with Werder Bremen on Sunday (GolTV, 11 am ET), one of three games before Landon Donovan is scheduled to return to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Bayern lost three of its four league games since the winter break, and Donovan went scoreless as he appeared in each as a sub for an average of 32 minutes per game. Chances that Donovan would remain at Bayern, as he hoped he would, had already been dismissed after the third game by the defending Bundesliga champ, which cited MLS's transfer fee demands as being far too high. Although how much effort Bayern made to negotiate a deal is unknown.

Most telling is it that the club no longer sees Donovan as option to back up its striker duo of Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose. Donovan did not suit up last Wednesday when Bayern thrashed Sport Lisbon on the road, 5-0, in Champions League play. And Lukas Podolski moved ahead of Donovan on the club's striker depth chart.

When asked last week about Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's statement that the club would not pursue the acquisition of Donovan, Coach Juergen Klinsmann, who had earlier hailed Donovan as an international class striker, said, "no problem." Donovan, whom one German newspaper referred to as the "coach's buddy," thus faces his third return after failing to make it in Germany.

Donovan signed with Bayer Leverkusen at 17 in 1999 and spent two years with the club without breaking into the first team. He moved to MLS, helped the San Jose Earthquakes win the 2001 title, starred at the 2002 World Cup for the USA, and spearheaded another Quakes' title in 2003.

He returned to Leverkusen for three months in 2005 and played seven Bundesliga games (no goals, one assist) before returning to MLS and getting his wish to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in Southern California, where he grew up. His flurry of postseason goals led Los Angeles to the 2005 title.

But the Galaxy failed to reach the playoffs the next three seasons, despite Donovan leading MLS in scoring in 2008. In the offseason, he followed David Beckham's lead and went on loan in Europe thanks to the faith put in him by Klinsmann, who had followed Donovan's career closely while the German resided in Southern California.

Donovan scored four goals in five winter-break friendly games and grew optimistic that he could land a deal that would take him away from the dismal Galaxy. But missing scoring chances as Bayern struggled so badly in first month of the season's second half ruined the chances of that - regardless of what kind of transfer fee may have been asked for by MLS.

Bayern had already signed Hamburg SV's Croatian striker Ivica Olic - who has scored 25 goals in 68 Bundesliga games -- for the 2009-10 season. Bayern's impressive win over Sporting while Donovan watched from the stands seemed to settle the fact that he's not needed by Bayern.

Klinsmann, meanwhile, remains under pressure despite the Sporting win. Bayern hadn't suffered three losses in four Bundesliga games in more than three decades. Lucky for Bayern, the other Bundesliga title challengers have all been dropping points, and fourth-place Bayern remains just four points behind leader Hamburg SV.

In an interview with Merkur, Donovan said he will not consider it a defeat to return to MLS.

 

"No," he said. "My wife is there, my dogs, and my team of the last four years with many friends. I love the Galaxy, my heart also belongs to it.

"I have always said, that I want to play in Europe. If not now, then maybe next year. My contract with MLS runs through 2011. That means, in 2010, when the contract end nears, the stars might align so that it makes sense for the Galaxy and for me [to move to Europe]."

Before Donovan's scheduled departure, besides Sunday's game at Bremen, Bayern hosts Hannover 96 March 7 and plays a German Cup game March 4 against Bayer Leverkusen.

It will be interesting to see whether Klinsmann gives Donovan chance to finish his latest German venture on a high note. A decent performance or two before he leaves Bayern might be needed to earn Donovan another chance in Europe.

 



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