Donovan should be allowed to leave

Published Jul. 19, 2010 11:46 p.m. EDT

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has let his feelings be known about the chances of Landon Donovan getting a permanent exit from the MLS to join a club in Europe.

Garber, speaking after the news conference that announced the signing of Thierry Henry by the New York Red Bulls on Thursday, said the league needs Donovan.

"He's become a real soccer hero," Garber said. "MLS needs soccer heroes, and we have a great American soccer hero playing for us in LA, holding the torch for the sport in our country, and that's very important. I don't believe that's something we can do without."

Wow, that's a lot of pressure on Landon. So, if Landon breaks his leg tomorrow or gets hit by a bus, does the MLS fold the league? Do we cancel the rest of the season, Don?


Funny how Garber made this statement on the day his league just signed a famous player away from another team and another league. Kind of a double-edged sword, wouldn't you say?

Granted, Henry was about as important to Barcelona's and the La Liga's future as a screaming vuvuzela, but that isn't really the point. Why is the commissioner saying what will or what won't happen with any particular player? Even if that player is the most important player to the league?

Hasn't Landon Donovan earned a right to do whatever the heck he wants, if it makes financial sense for the Galaxy? Donovan has showed loyalty to this league above and beyond what could ever had been expected of him. But apparently that isn't enough.

Yes, he has a four-year deal, but sales of players to other clubs are made all the time around the rest of the football world. Players are switching teams and leagues left and right throughout Europe as we speak. Decisions are made; deals are done.

Other than his experience in the MLS with San Jose and now Los Angeles, Landon's most successful club experience was his two and a half month loan with Everton FC in the Premier League earlier this year.

Landon loved his time with the Blues and fit right in, and the the fans and players, as well as manager David Moyes, returned the love. It turned out to be a perfect match for him.

It was also, in my opinion, a big reason Landon excelled in South Africa. Playing well with a big-time club in a big-time league and gaining confidence. Don't we want him to have that same type of experience and confidence going into Brazil in 2014?

If Garber hadn't made himself clear earlier, he certainly did with this statement:

"Landon is, in my view, the greatest player of our generation and an incredibly valuable part of our history, but also of our future," Garber said. "He proved in England last year on loan and he proved in South Africa that he's a world-class player and he's also proved that he loves our league and really has accepted the mantle of really being one of the leaders of the sport.

"It is my hope and my expectation that we have him for the rest of his career because I think the contributions that he makes are invaluable to our future success."

So let me get these quotes correctly. "I don't believe that's something we can do without," and, "I think the contributions he makes are invaluable to our future success."

I'm sorry, but that is going too far. That is too much to put on one player.

So, if Landon really wants to leave and Everton or Chelsea or Manchester City offers the farm to Los Angeles, Garber will apparently step in and say no. And if he doesn't stop it, and Landon leaves, Landon will be the bad guy. The guy who jumped ship and refused to save the league. How fair is that? What way is that to treat your best player?

I'm a fan of Landon Donovan, and part of me loves the fact that he has chosen to play his soccer in the states and help the development of the MLS. The league has grown incredibly since he first joined it a decade ago, and he is a big reason why.

But that doesn't mean he he doesn't have the right to do what is best for him. The league is fine, and will continue on without Donovan. Landon has the right, while he is still in his soccer prime at age 28, to try and play his club ball at the highest level.

Why can't he be allowed, if the terms could be worked out, to give England a three- or four-year shot and then come back, ala Henry and Beckham, at the twilight of his career for an MLS swan song?

Isn't that what Brian McBride did? Why didn't Brian have to to stay in the MLS and help the league grow, Don?

Donovan fit seamlessly in with the Blues. The fans loved him, and the manager and players took to him. He has expressed interest in returning to Everton. Moyes is willing to pay big time to get him, knowing a guy like Landon could be just the kind of addition that puts Everton into the top four in the Premier League.

But it is not to be, at least if the MLS commish has his way.

Ron Furlong is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, the open source sports network.