BALTIMORE – Landon Donovan is enjoying himself again, and that’s very bad news indeed for the USMNT's Gold Cup opponents. And perhaps their 2014 World Cup foes as well.
With his international fate in limbo after a lengthy sabbatical from the game that coincided with the USA's World Cup qualifying campaign earlier this year, the prevailing logic was that Donovan had plenty to prove to Jurgen Klinsmann during the Gold Cup in order to have any chance of joining the team next year in Brazil.
And, game-by-game, it looks increasingly likely that Klinsmann won’t be able to afford to leave the first 50-goal, 50-assist man in US history at home. With four goals and three assists against Guatemala, Belize, Cuba and Costa Rica, Donovan has seized his opportunity and quickly quieted those who doubted his resolve.
Just don’t expect him to start looking ahead to Brazil, especially with the job far from done.
“The reality for me now is every game is an audition,” Donovan said Tuesday night after assisting on Brek Shea’s game-winning goal vs. Costa Rica. “I don’t want to get too high with good performances and low with bad ones. I want to be consistent. I want to be someone that can be relied upon. When my number is called, I want to be ready. I’m taking it that way, I really am. I’m happy to be a part of this, and I want to keep it going.”
In order to do that, the US must emerge victorious from their quarterfinal matchup against El Salvador on Sunday (4 pm ET, Fox, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com), a match in which Donovan is sure to be a point of emphasis for a Salvadoran defense tasked with slowing down the tournament’s most explosive side.
WATCH: Can El Salvador spring the upset?
With a sellout crowd on hand that’s expected to be firmly behind the underdogs, some have speculated El Salvador could eschew the defensive tactics others have employed against the US as their sizeable contingent of support urges them forward.
Not Donovan, though.
“Our expectation is that they’ll do what every other team has done,” he said Saturday. “They’ll defend with everything they have, and they’ll try to catch us on perhaps a counter or a set piece or something like that, so we have to be concentrated. Actually, I think the heat probably helps us in some ways to move the ball and wear a team down like we’ve had to in the other games. That’s the objective.”
And it certainly promises to be hot at M&T Bank Stadium in the early afternoon on Sunday. As of Saturday evening, the forecast called for 89-degree weather and 53-percent humidity.
“I don’t care who you are, you can’t defend in 90-degree weather for 90 minutes the way some of these teams have,” Donovan said. “If we keep the tempo high and make them play at a pace that they’re not comfortable with, then I think we’ll be successful.”
And, if the rest of the tournament has been any indication, Donovan will shine as well, extending a Gold Cup audition that he’s more than happy to leave to others to judge.
“I just want to keep doing my best. I want to keep enjoying it,” he said. “I’ll leave the evaluating to other people.”