Landon Donovan was named the MLS Most Valuable Player in 2009 for his play in leading the LA Galaxy to MLS Cup, but the value of Donovan to the league goes well beyond his performance on the field.
On Wednesday, the Galaxy announced that Donovan has extended his contract with the team through 2013, however the path has been paved for Donovan to play in Europe on a loan from January through March each year as well.
While no loan deal is in place as of yet, LA manager Bruce Arena did indicate the arrangement will likely see Donovan suiting up for Everton for the first three months of the new year.
Locking up Donovan is very important for MLS. Donovan is arguably the most recognizable US player since Mia Hamm. The MVP season, alongside David Beckham, coupled with any success during 2010 World Cup could vault Donovan into a US stardom reserved for NBA and NFL players.
While the MLS has seen growth, thanks in large part to very successful expansion, overall attendance and TV ratings indicate the sport still lags far behind the traditional powerhouses of American football, basketball and baseball.
Were Donovan and the Americans have a strong World Cup campaign, MLS would be poised to take advantage of any newfound interest in the sport in the second half of the 2010 season.
Having homegrown talent such as Donovan filling the MLS rosters for that time period will be vital if MLS has any hopes of capitalizing on a World Cup run.
However, the deal does not necessarily hold the European teams at bay. A stellar World Cup would no doubt bring many European suitors to Donovan’s doorstep.
By having deal through 2013 in place, the Galaxy and MLS can at least rest assured any deal would result in transfers to help make up for losing such a star.
In the meantime, Donovan’s loan will no doubt get plenty of attention and be a test for MLS. If the league’s MVP goes to Europe and struggles to do much at a club like Everton, it could be a dreadful indication of the level of MLS.
These are some of the many reasons that 2010 could be a pivotal year for MLS.