It has been a dozen years since Landon Donovan played in his first World Cup. Twelve years since he was the precocious 20-year-old in South Korea frustrating opponents with his speed, and exasperating his coach by giving away the U.S. national team’s starting lineup before its opening match.
Since that memorable 2002 World Cup, Donovan has competed in two more tournaments and stands on the verge of playing in his fourth World Cup this summer in Brazil. His role on the U.S. national team has changed dramatically through those tournaments. He has gone from a promising young prospect in 2002 to the team’s biggest star in 2006 to goal-scoring hero in 2010.
His role for the 2014 World Cup won't carry as much responsibility as in past tournaments. With teammates Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard poised to help lead the group, Donovan won't face the responsibilities and burdens of previous World Cups. In fact, it isn’t even a given that he will start.
That doesn’t mean the 32-year-old Donovan won't play an important role on the team. As Bradley has stated in the past, if the U.S. team is going to have a successful World Cup, then it will need Donovan to play well.
Donovan is ready for whatever his fourth World Cup will bring, and in an interview to promote his involvement in Samsung’s Galaxy XI promotional campaign, the U.S. national team star acknowledged that he is aware of a new role awaiting him in Brazil.
"I'm very much at peace with the whole process and what it’s going to be," Donovan said in an exclusive interview with Goal. "I'm excited to help in a way I've never been able to before. I see it all very clearly now. I understand what it's going to be like. I understand what it's about. I'm not caught up right now in thinking about Brazil. I'm just focusing on what I'm doing now because I know when that time comes that I will switch gears and I’ll be able to put my entire focus on that.
"I think I can help in a lot of ways," Donovan said of his new role with the national team. "Omar (Gonzalez) is a guy I sit next to in the (LA Galaxy) locker room so I see him every day and we talk a lot about different things. I'm sort of experiencing the World Cup through his eyes again, and it takes me back to when I was at my first time going to the World Cup. In that way it’s a much more enjoyable experience. It’s a calmer experience.
"(That said), I'm also really excited because I realize this is a great opportunity for all of us."
The U.S. national team’s tough road at the 2014 World Cup is nothing new for Donovan, who was a starter in 2002 when the Americans advanced out of a tough group that featured highly-rated Portugal and host nation South Korea. This time around, the U.S. will face Ghana, Portugal and Germany, a group Donovan believes the U.S. has the talent to advance out of.
"That's the way these World Cups are. If you play three very good games chances are you're going to advance," Donovan said. "We couldn’t always say that about our team in the past because we just weren’t talented or experienced enough, but now we can say that.
"We think that if we play three very good games, and maybe when you have three difficult teams like this you have to play three very, very good games, but we think we’re capable of that, and if we do that we think we’ll advance."
Donovan will be playing in his fourth World Cup this summer, and playing for his third World Cup coach. His relationship with current U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been the subject of plenty of scrutiny since Klinsmann took over in 2011. Klinsmann briefly coached Donovan at Bayern Munich in 2009, and turned some heads when he chose not to call Donovan into the national team for World Cup qualifiers last summer after Donovan had taken time off from the sport in the winter and spring of 2013.
Earlier this month, Klinsmann made some waves when he chose to bench Donovan for the April 2 friendly against Mexico after determining he didn't look sharp enough in the training sessions before the match.
"I think we’ve developed a really good relationship and I think we’re very honest with each other," Donovan said. "A few weeks ago against Mexico, he was able to communicate in a good way what he saw and what was going on. I don’t think that would happen if you hadn't built some trust over the years. The important thing for him and I is to continue to communicate and trust each other.
"I'm in a different place then I was years ago," Donovan said. "I can't always train the same way, but I do know how to play when it's time to play. It's making sure that we see things the same way. (Klinsmann) has been very adamant that if you don't train well and you’re not playing well, then you’re not going to play. That was understandable for that Mexico game.
"I think we've continued to progress in that way and I think we clearly both have the same goal in mind, which is to help this team get as far as possible. Whatever role I can assume to help that, I'm happy to do."
Donovan has already acknowledged that the 2014 World Cup will be his last, and after talking last year about retirement potentially being an option sooner than later, the LA Galaxy star admits that walking away from the game isn't in his immediate plans. He is enjoying his time with the Galaxy and U.S. national team, and isn’t quite ready to hang up his boots just yet.
"I can see the finish line, just not super clearly so I don't know when it will be," Donovan said. "I'm enjoying myself now, and as long as I keep enjoying myself I'll keep playing. If I get to the point where I’m not, then I won't, and that’s sort of the way I’ve always approached it, but now it’s in a more immediate way.
"I'm going to do my best to take advantage of all these opportunities and make the most of them, because once it's done, it’s done. Unless you’re Michael Phelps," Donovan joked. "But once you’re done it's done, and then I'll be moving on to other things."
- Sports & Recreation
- Landon Donovan
- 2014 World Cup