BALTIMORE – As his goals, assists and other, less measurable contributions pile up in the US national team's steadily-increasing winning streak, it grows easier and easier to forget that Landon Donovan was ever gone – that just three months ago he was left out of the program whose record books are adorned with his name.
He delivered the latest in this month's sequence of “Landon is back” moments against El Salvador at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday evening, running the Cuscatlecos defense ragged and cueing up chance after chance for his teammates in a 5-1 victory that booked the USMNT's place in the Gold Cup semifinals.
When the final whistle blew, Donovan had netted one of those goals and played a direct role in three more, further obliterating any doubt about his worth to the squad after coach Jurgen Klinsmann's insistence that he prove himself in the wake of his four-month sabbatical from the game.
“I think Landon proved again today how valuable he is, and how he can make a difference,” said Klinsmann in the postgame press conference. “This game was also, for us coaches, important to see who is a difference-maker out there, who can when maybe things go a little bit the wrong way, can take the game on their feet. Landon was one of those players.”
Donovan himself cited a joyously simple source of inspiration for his display in Baltimore.
“I'm just having a lot of fun,” he told reporters afterwards. “Today was my mom's 60th birthday, so I was pushing hard to try and score a goal, and it finally came. It was a nice present for her.”
He is also finding great satisfaction in being one of several key contributors at the nexus of one of the most dominant US squads in recent memory.
“We're getting more and more comfortable and the beauty of it is, we can score and create chances in a lot of different ways,” he said. “Obviously our set pieces have been very good. When we move the ball quickly and break teams down through the middle of the field, we've had chances that way.
"We've done a very good job of getting chances wide, in getting crosses in the box. Counterattacks, we're getting chances. So we're scoring in all different ways.”
Rapidly overcoming the potential awkwardness around his return to the squad, Donovan has impressed new teammates as well as those who've played with him on dozens of occasions over the past decade.
“He was a little bit unsure of himself, I think, but now he’s back on his feet,” said US captain DaMarcus Beasley. “Every game he’s gotten better – from the San Diego game against Guatemala, all the way until now against El Salvador. He’s been great for the team, not just on the field but off the field as well being a leader with me. We’re seeing this Gold Cup together. Hopefully we can do that and raise a cup next week.
“We’re happy he’s back. He’s where he should be and where he needs to be. I know we’re all happy for him that he’s contributing every single game – not just offensively with goals and assists, but defensively as well. He keeps our team ticking.”
Mix Diskerud is one of the latest beneficiaries of his explosive run of form. Three games after making his official competitive debut for the Yanks, the Norwegian-American midfielder notched his first US goal off a Donovan feed on Sunday.
“He's a great guy, first of all,” said Diskerud. “Off the pitch he takes care of us and he's a guy you can look up to. He makes runs – he's a very, very clever, smart player. It's the first time I've played with him and it's a joy.”