July 6, 2013
By Scott French
A RETURN TO REMEMBER
Donovan is superb in comeback with the U.S. national team
LA Soccer News Contributing Editor
SAN DIEGO -- It took awhile for Landon Donovan to find his footing again in the international arena -- his first touch in Friday night's friendly against Guatemala was a giveaway -- but once he did, it was almost like he'd never been gone.
The LA Galaxy star, making his return to the U.S. national team after nearly 11 months, gave a splendid performance, scoring two goals, setting up another, and playing the key role in a tactical shift that turned a scoreless battle into a 6-0 romp in the Americans' lone tuneup for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Donovan, who last played for the U.S. in last August's victory over Mexico at Estadio Azteca, made his first international appearance since returning from a sabbatical not quite 3˝ months ago a most memorable one. Now the real work begins with the start of the Gold Cup; the Yanks open Group C play Tuesday against Belize in Portland, Ore.
“We are happy for Landon, that he picks up the rhythm, he's part of the group again, he kind of settles in again, and goals always help. For each striker, it's the best recipe ...,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “It's going to be a progression over the next couple weeks. We're just happy that he picks up the goals again. Scoring number 50, 51 is awesome. That's what we like to see, [Donovan] feeling more confident and feeling more a part of the team again.”
Donovan started on the right side of midfield and then moved up top, as the U.S. switched from a 4-2-3-1 alignment to a 4-4-2 to increase pressure on Guatemala's defensive bunker, and he showed a lot of the spark that has made him the national team's most important figure for most of the past dozen years.
He won and then converted a penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, set up Chris Wondolowski's first international goal in the 72nd minute, scored a superb volley from a Stuart Holden chip a minute later to make it 4-0, then departed to a warm reception from the crowd of 25,080 at Qualcomm Stadium.
“I'm not going to get carried away because I scored a couple of goals in a friendly against Guatemala,” Donovan said. “But it's good for confidence, it's good to score goals, it's good for the team to win, but it's going to get a lot harder in the coming weeks, and we know that.”
The U.S. has games with Belize, Cuba and Costa Rica in group play, plus three more, they hope, concluding with the June 28 title game in Chicago. Donovan is fighting for a job when World Cup qualifying resumes in September and beyond, as is nearly everyone on this roster, and his performance Friday was a good step forward.
“Big performance by him,” said U.S. captain DaMarcus Beasley, who greeted Donovan with a hug and a “welcome back” after his penalty kick in the 55th minute. “I was excited that he's on the roster, I was excited that he got a start today, and I was excited that he got the two goals -- and an [unofficial] assist.
“He'll tell you that he's not back to the Landon [of old], but the second goal showed that he's there. He can make things happen on the field, and that's what we need. We need attacking players that make things happen, create goals, score goals, work hard defensively. We need that in our team.”
Donovan won the penalty when Carlos Castrillo bundled into him in the goalmouth as he awaited a cross from Herculez Gomez. He rolled the ball gently up the middle as goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez dived to his right, a cheeky finish for his 50th international goal. No. 51, from a Holden chip that cleared four defenders to find Donovan behind the backline, was even nicer.
“I'm really proud of it,” Donovan said about reaching the half-century mark. “Obviously, I've been sitting on 49 for awhile [since a hat trick against Scotland in May 2012], and it's a nice feeling. I realize at the end of the day, it's just the ego that feels good and it doesn't mean anything when I'm on my deathbed, but I am still proud of it, and I'm happy.”
Gomez, who scored the first goal for the U.S. just before halftime, said he was happy to see Donovan fare so well in his return.
“I expect a lot out of him,” Gomez said. “I hope he keeps building on that. [He's someone who can] play with a chip on their shoulder, and if you know what it's like and how highly motivational that can be, it can give you an edge. I know what that's like, and I think Landon can be a very dangerous player if he takes that.”
Donovan is ready for more, starting on Tuesday.
“We want to do well and we want to succeed [in the Gold Cup],” Donovan said. “And I want to be part of it, whether that's playing every minute every game, whether that's playing and contributing a little bit, whether that's just being on the bench and helping. I want to be holding a trophy at the end of the month, and I think we all feel that way.”