USMNT: Back in the fold at long last, Landon Donovan puts focus squarely on World Cup qualification
CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan's appearance on the US roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico wasn't much of a surprise following his performance in the Americans' CONCACAF Gold Cup triumph last month, but it's another big step forward in the LA Galaxy star's renaissance.
Donovan, who returned to the US team after a nearly 11-month absence and scored seven goals with seven assists in seven games last month, figures to play a key role when the Americans play Sept. 6 in Costa Rica and take on Mexico on Sept. 10 in Columbus.
“I'm excited,” Donovan said following the Galaxy's training session Thursday morning at the StubHub Center. “I want to be part of that team going forward, and I'm happy to be a part of the group. We have real work to do, and we have the potential in the next couple weeks to be qualified for the World Cup. That's always the goal, and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen.”
Donovan, who said he received “official” word he was on the roster on Wednesday morning, hasn't played in a World Cup qualifier since June 2012 – a span of 10 qualifying games – and hadn't been in the mix since taking a leave of absence following the Galaxy's MLS Cup triumph last December.
He returned to the field in March, played his first national team game since last August in the Gold Cup prep against Guatemala, then led the Americans to the tournament title, scoring five goals with seven assists to push his international totals to 56 goals and 57 assists, both US records, in 151 matches.
His inclusion for this roster seemed certain, but Donovan noted that “nothing's a slam dunk anymore.”
“I'm not surprised [by the call-up],” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who was in charge of the US national team for eight years and two World Cups. “I think a player of his experience and quality is certainly going to help the US.”
The US has 13 points after six qualifiers and are atop the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings. Costa Rica (11 points) is second and Mexico (8) is third. The top three teams head to Brazil, and the fourth-place team faces a playoff for an additional berth.
“[Costa Rica and Mexico are] arguably the two best teams [the US is competing with],” Donovan said. “It's going to be two hard games. Our team is full of confidence. We're going to Costa Rica with expectations that we can get something out of the game. A win would be great, but even getting a point there would be huge.”
That game will be played in Costa Rica's Estadio Nacional in San Jose rather than at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa.
“In my opinion, Saprissa's the hardest place to play in CONCACAF,” Donovan said. “It can't hurt [playing elsewhere], that's for sure, but any time you play Costa Rica home or away, it's a very difficult game, so we expect the same.”
The US is unbeaten in its last five home qualifiers against Mexico, dating to 1980, and they've beat El Tri in Columbus in 2001, 2005 and 2013 – all by 2-0 scorelines.
“Mexico will be fun,” Donovan said. “We look forward to that. ... I think psychologically [Columbus Crew Stadium is] a big advantage for us. We love playing there, it's always a pro-American crowd. My guess is if you asked the Mexican players, they don't really enjoy going there. We want to make it a fortress and continue to win there.”
How he’ll be involved remains a bit of a mystery, however. The German said on Thursday that the US veteran represented "another really, really good option for us," but didn't elaborate on just what that might entail.
Donovan, for his part, says Klinsmann has not talked to him about his role for the two matches and that he has “no idea” what he'll be asked to do.
“We'll find out,” he said. “We'll see what happens.”