At 27, Landon Donovan is already the most decorated figure in American soccer history, a six-time U.S. player of the year and the national team's alltime leading scorer. But for years Donovan was considered a failure in European club soccer, the result of three abortive stints in Germany. Just three months before the World Cup that view is changing. Donovan's 10-week loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy to Everton of the English Premier League has been a success: He has been a fixture in the Toffees' midfield, providing one goal and two assists while helping Everton win six games. On Sunday, Donovan missed a marvelous scoring chance in a 2--1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur, but that shouldn't hurt his standing too much with Everton's fans, who named him January's player of the month.
So now that he's finally making his mark at the game's highest level, why is Donovan scheduled to leave England on March 15 in the middle of a tight Premiership race? According to the terms of his loan—in which Everton secured Donovan's services during the MLS off-season—Donovan has to return to Los Angeles for the start of the MLS campaign. The American signed a four-year, $9 million contract with MLS in December, and Everton would have to pay the league a pretty penny to extend Donovan's loan through May. That still could happen. When Everton manager David Moyes announced that "unfortunately" Donovan would have to return to L.A., those close to the situation viewed it as a potential negotiating tactic. Then last week Donovan was quoted on Everton's official website: "Every day that goes by makes me think I want to stay here, but we'll see what happens."
Donovan, the reigning MLS MVP, has nothing left to prove in the lower-tier U.S. league, but a contract is a contract. The most likely scenario involves Donovan returning to the Galaxy this month—unless there is an MLS work stoppage. (The league's collective bargaining agreement expired last week.) It's possible that Everton or another European club could purchase Donovan in a full transfer after the World Cup.
MLS's likely price: anywhere from $8 million to $15 million.