CARSON, Calif. -- A third stint in Germany could prove to be the charm for the player many have considered the best the U.S. has ever produced.
Landon Donovan first tested himself on the international stage in 1999 at age 16, signing with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. The California teenager got homesick and frustrated with a coaching carousel that left him feeling his development was stalled.
Donovan worked out an arrangement such that his club loaned him to Major League Soccer in 2001. He was assigned to the team in San Jose and helped it win two championships during his time there. After a brief return to Leverkusen in 2004 did not succeed, AEG sports honcho Tim Leiweke arranged to buy out Donovan's contract, placing Donovan in Los Angeles as the Galaxy's new signing.
Since that time, no matter what Donovan has accomplished (such as another MLS championship or breaking the goals record for the U.S. national team), detractors point to his lack of European accomplishments.
For many, it's tantalizing to imagine Donovan in Europe. His skill is of a high-enough caliber to make an impact on almost any club.
"I thought it was exceptional," David Beckham said of Donovan's performance in a 5-2 win over D.C. on Saturday, when Donovan scored a hat trick. "I've seen that a few times from Landon. When he plays like that, no one can stop him."
Beckham had no trouble describing Donovan's talents on the field.
"[Donovan's] a goal scorer, and he's done that throughout his career," Beckham said. "We're lucky to have a player like him on the team. When he runs at players and when he runs off the ball, no one can get near him because he's too quick. He's a great finisher of the ball."
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena heaped praise on Donovan, but also pointed out his inconsistency.
"It was certainly an excellent performance [against D.C.]," said Arena, the former U.S. men's national team coach. "I've seen him score goals in World Cups and World Cup qualifying, and obviously in this league now. He's at 19 goals [this season]."
That tally puts Donovan at the top of the league in goals scored. Arena, however, wants to see more.
"That's the big thing I emphasize with Landon," Arena said. "You have to play up to your ability. He's a goal scorer; he's a very good passer; he's a good team player. We need to get all those qualities out of him. The goals are great and all. What we need to see is consistency from here to the end of the season."
German giant Bayern Munich reportedly inquired about Donovan's availability earlier this year. In a bit of a twist, Germany wasn't the country Donovan had thought of first when imagining a return to play in Europe. Instead, he said more than once that he preferred to join a club in England or Spain.
But Donovan is open to possibilities in Germany -- and Bayern Munich especially. Juergen Klinsmann, the former great German forward, coaches there. He believes he can get the most out of Donovan's talent.
"That's one of the best teams in the world," Donovan said. "As of now, I've got to worry about what's going on here, but if January rolls around and there's interest, and the league is willing to discuss it, I would be excited to talk about it."
As a good foot soldier back when the league was trying to gain recognition and status, Donovan shouldn't have to worry much about the organization's holding him back now.
"It's up to my relationship with the league and the Galaxy and if they're willing to let that happen," Donovan said. "There have to be teams interested, so there's a lot of ifs, but if a team like Bayern Munich came calling, you don't really turn them away without thinking about it."
At 26, Donovan knows that his window for a move overseas is starting to close.
"Physically, I feel I'm as good as I'm going to be," he said.
Although the versatile Donovan can play well as a forward or a midfielder, much of his game depends on quickness. Unlike Beckham and his methodic, consistent manner while delivering the ball on set plays, quickness isn't a physical trait that ages well.
"After the next few years, I'm probably going to start declining a little," Donovan said. "Mentally, I've never been better."
Donovan's true mental growth might lie in the psychology of a decision to test his talent overseas once more.
"I would love for it to happen," Donovan said of a move to Bayern Munich. "It's up to the league, it's up to the Galaxy and it's up to me. I feel like I have a good relationship with all those parties, and if it were to happen, I think that would be great."
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at email@example.com.