September 24, 2009
By Michael Lewis
DON'T LEAVE IT TO CHANCE
Donovan says he's ready to play Honduras -- anywhere
With a World Cup berth on the line, U.S. international midfielder Landon Donovan realizes the Americans cannot leave anything to chance against Honduras in their Oct. 10 qualifier, regardless of where the vital match will be played.
|Landon Donovan: "The last thing I want is Costa Rica in Washington, D.C. We will throw everything we can at this game [vs. Honduras] to qualify."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
The game in Honduras is in jeopardy and could be moved due to the recent political chaos in the Central American country. President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup in June, returned to the country Tuesday, taking refugee in the Brazilian embassy in the capital of Tegucigalpa. Schools, businesses, airports and border crossings have been closed, with severe curfews imposed.
Not surprisingly, there are concerns whether the U.S. National Team would be safe to play the vital match in San Pedro Sula, the country's second largest city.
FIFA and CONCACAF are looking into the possibility of moving the game to a neutral site in another Central American nation or even in the U.S.
"We are obviously monitoring the situation closely and are in discussions with the appropriate officials at CONCACAF and FIFA who will determine if the location of the match will be moved out of Honduras," U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe said.
Donovan realizes the U.S. must be ready to play regardless where the match is.
"For us, it's about playing soccer," he said Wednesday afternoon. "That's our main concern. There are certainly more issues that are more important than that. The first priority is the well being of people. Whenever the game is, we have to play the game, regardless."
The U.S. can clinch a berth with a win, making its 10th and last final round match against Costa Rica on Oct. 14 meaningless.
"For me, it's pretty simple," Donovan said. "The last two times we went through the process, we qualified with two games to spare. The last thing I want is Costa Rica in Washington, D.C. We will throw everything we can at this game [vs. Honduras] to qualify.
"As you know, anything can happen in soccer. We don't want to leave this game to chance."
If the U.S. doesn't clinch in its final two qualifiers, it would have to play the fifth-place team from South America in a home-and-home series on Nov. 14 and 18. One possible opponent could be Argentina.
Besides the pride of reaching the World Cup for a personal third consecutive time, Donovan might have other reasons to avoid that playoff. His club team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, is having its finest season in years and could go deep into the MLS playoffs and even reach MLS Cup on Nov. 22.
The last thing he would want would be a club and country situation that late in the season. Donovan would love to play in the post-season. The Galaxy hasn't reached the playoffs in three years.
"In MLS, it's a long time for me since I've played in the playoffs," he said. "It's better than the alternative, not being in the playoffs for three straight years and going home early. It's doing something special."
But if push came to shove and Donovan had to shuttle between club and country in November, he said that he would be prepared.
“It’s been a long year, especially for me,” he said. “I’ve learned to focus, which I hadn’t done in the past. I’ve learned to take care of myself physically and mentally.”
Donovan felt coach Bruce Arena, a former Red Bulls coach, has stabilized the Galaxy and has given the team an identity it had lacked for several years.
"The most important thing is that we finally have an identity," he said. "We've been going from one coach to another coach. We know who we are. We know what we are good at. We have a style of play. We might not be as talented as some teams. . . We're a team and we play the game that way."
As for playing in Europe, Donovan isn't close to making a decision on that until after the season and after the World Cup qualifiers.
"Look, I'm not going to say it's not on my mind," he said. "I'm not going anywhere. If I go anywhere, it will be in January [the next European transfer window]. I want to focus on the Galaxy and qualifying. The last thing I want to do is worrying about where I will be playing several months from now."
Donovan was in Manhattan Wednesday to promote a FIFA-themed video game that teaches fundamentals of money management, to students at MLK H.S. He got an opportunity to meet with students, MLK coach Martin Jacobson and members of the school's highly successful soccer team.
"I've always been passionate about it," Donovan said about teaching youngsters about the importance of financial management. "It raises the awareness."
Donovan played the game with Chicago Fire forward Brian McBride and former Mexican international goalkeeper Jorge Campos and MLK students. Every time a team answered a question correctly, it would move up the field, one step closer to the opponents’ goal. The game ended scoreless because the both teams kept on answering questions right.
Donovan's team managed to take a shot, but the other team's goalkeeper saved it.
"The best part of the day was meeting the kids," Donovan said.