World Cup: Landon Donovan not taking roster spot for granted in buildup to Brazil
With a 15-year pedigree in professional soccer that includes three World Cups, more than 150 caps for the US national team and his country's record in both goals and assists, Landon Donovan may seem as strong a lock as any player on the planet to play in this year's World Cup.
With that sort of career, though, also comes a bit of perspective.
Sitting down with Maggie Gray from SI.com on Tuesday, the 32-year-old LA Galaxy star acknowledged that at this point in his playing days, he cannot take anything for granted as he battles for a spot in what would be his fourth go-around on world soccer's biggest stage.
"My job right now is to make the team, and I know that very clearly," Donovan explained. "Once we get to camp in May, that's my job, along with everyone else's job: It's to make [US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's] decision difficult. And so if and when that happens, then we go forward from there.
"But it's going to be fluid. He's changed our lineup and changed the way we play many times, and guys have to be ready to adapt."
Donovan's place has been far from certain since 2012, when he did not feature in any of the USMNT's final five games, including four qualifiers, and subsequently took a four-month sabbatical following the Galaxy's 2012 MLS Cup win.
Klinsmann made it clear at that point that even with his reputation as one of the best American players to grace the world stage, Donovan would have to earn his way onto the team if he wanted to be a part of the festivities in Brazil. Donovan did just that with a sensational 2013 Gold Cup campaign, but he knows that with less than two months remaining until the tournament opens, the journey is far from over.
"I just have to go to camp in May like I always have and prove that I belong," Donovan responded when asked if there was any doubt as to his presence on the World Cup squad. "I've had a little bit of a choppy road over the last few years with the US team.
"I haven't always started. I haven't always played. I haven't always been called in. And so I have to make sure that I'm performing, which is the way it should be. And if I perform well, then I'll be part of the team."
A strong US camp could be the key to Donovan seeing increased playing time in Brazil, as in five games with the Galaxy, he has yet to find the MLS-record-setting 135th goal of his career. He does, however, have two assists to his name.
His national-team form has been similarly mixed. Donovan started the year strong, going the full 90 minutes and helping set up a goal in a year-opening win over South Korea in January, but was benched for an April 5 friendly against Mexico due to the combination of left knee issues and what Klinsmann called a lack of "tempo" in Donovan's training sessions with the team.
Still, it seems unlikely that Donovan would be left off the roster; the question is more along the lines of: How much will he actually see the field in Brazil?
"I know that if I'm on the field that I will perform and provide the team with what it needs to be successful," he explained. "At the same time, there are a lot of other guys who are in that same category. So on a given day, if someone else makes more sense for a certain reason, who am I to begrudge that?"
And what about all the fans who will be looking for Donovan, a player whose name resonates among many casual sports fans, this summer?
"That's the evolution of sports," Donovan explained. "That's the way sports are. And so I understand that to some extent, and that's flattering [that fans want to see me starting]. But at the end of the day, I have to make the team just like everyone else, and I have to prove that I deserve to be there, and so I'll do that."