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U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

June 10, 2010
A NEW MAN
Donovan focused for this World Cup


Landon Donovan says he has his head screwed on straight for this World Cup.
Landon Donovan says he has his head screwed on straight for this World Cup.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images

JOHANNESBURG -- After his utterly miserable and forgettable World Cup four years ago, Landon Donovan says he is a different person and player this time around.

He better be because the United States will rely on the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder for its success, whether it will be playing in the first round or in the knockout round.

Prior to the Germany tournament in 2006, Donovan was the poster boy of U.S. Soccer. He was everywhere. As a spokesman for Claritan, for example, he did interview after interview after interview in New York one day that April.

This time he is more focused. At the age of 28, he realizes he is in prime time and when the 2014 World Cup comes around in Brazil, he will be on the other side of 30.

ďIím prepared," Donovan said Wednesday. "I know the qualities I have as a player, as a person, as an athlete, and Iím prepared for this moment. I wasnít prepared in 2006. When you feel this prepared, you donít worry about if itís going to go well on the day. I know Iím going to play well Saturday, and then itís how does our team do and what happens in the game.Ē

The Americans kick off the World Cup against England in a Group C encounter in Rustenburg on Saturday. Donovan downplayed the encounter, which has been and will be hyped to high heaven.

ďIn the bigger picture, itís just one of three games," Donovan said. "We understand that theyíre all equally important in that way. They really are. Aside from that, the other part of it is knowing what this game means back home. For the last six months all weíve seen is U.S-England, so if you were a casual sports fan at home you might think this is the World Cup final, you wouldnít know any different. I understand that, but like Iíve said we can win Saturday and not advance and Iíd be disappointed, or we could lose Saturday and end up advancing and Iíd be equally happy.Ē

Donovanís first World Cup was in Korea in 2002, breaking in as a 20-year-old as the Americans surprisingly reached the quarterfinals.

At that World Cup, he was a wide-eyed kid with so much to learn. Today, he is a much more polished veteran with more responsibilities.

ďAs far as soccer goes, Iím more or less what I have been for most of my career," Donovan said. "The way I play, the way I do things. Obviously Iíve become better in certain areas, Iíve worked a lot at my weaknesses on the field and tried to get better. Tactically you learn a lot just from the experience of playing in a lot of games, youíll learn things.

"Looking back now at that player mentally, itís almost like a completely different person. And there were pluses and minuses to that. Being young and not knowing anything can be very positive sometimes, and it certainly was in that tournament. Now what I strive to do is keep that youthfulness when Iím playing mixed with the experience that I have and how to play in certain situations. I think the best way to describe it is that in 2002 I played completely from my heart and just went for it. Now Iím striving to play completely from my heart with a little mixture of keeping my mind in the right place so I can not do anything stupid.Ē

While he will be participating in his third World Cup, Donovan prefers to lead by example.

ďI think in the past when I thought about leadership, it meant doing more things to help other people," Donovan said. "Iím best leading when Iím focused on what Iím doing well. I think my energy and the way I play is a form of leadership on the field and I think other guys feed off of that. Iím aware of that, and Iím also aware that I donít need to yell at guys, or say things all the time, Iím certainly at my best when Iím focused on myself.Ē
   
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