STANFORD, Calif. – For the first time in more than a decade, Landon Donovan's fate with the US national team might just be out of his hands.
At least, that’s how the LA Galaxy and longtime USMNT star sees it as he circles the fourth and final World Cup of his storied career. Now 32 years old and facing the very real possibility that he’s no longer the Americans’ driving force on the field, Donovan said Monday that the uncertainty surrounding his role – or even his spot on the roster – is something he hasn’t felt in years.
“For me personally, I liken it to 2002,” Donovan said before the team’s training at Stanford University. “In 2006 and 2010 I knew for the most part, unless I was awful, that I was going to make the team. This time it’s more similar to ’02, when I wasn’t sure. In that way, it’s as competitive for me as it’s been in a long time.”
“You can really make the case for any of the guys here to make the squad,” he added. “So there are going to be some difficult decisions for the coaches.”
Just where Donovan fits during those coaches’ discussions is unclear. He’s faced a number of potential roadblocks to Brazil in the past year – questions about his commitment, rumors of problems with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the inevitable passing of time that has left him a different player than he once was – but Donovan has remained steadfast.
He once again shot down reports that he and Klinsmann were at odds over his self-imposed sabbatical in 2013 and insisted he’s still one of this group’s fittest players, despite a lingering knee issue that he said was “doing okay” when he arrived on campus last week.
“I don’t have doubt,” he said. “I am very confident in my abilities, and I think I’m deserving to be part of the squad. But I have to prove that. And I have to earn that.”
Still, when Donovan took a brief minute to reflect on all the time that has passed in his career up to this point, it was clear he knows this is his last run. Although he said he doesn’t have time to be nostalgic – “if I make the team, then it will set in a little bit” – he’s clearly approaching this camp differently than in years past.
“I don’t have that youthful energy and excitement that I did in 2002, but I see the game and I see the situation a lot more clearly now,” he said. “So I think I’m able to enjoy it more, in that way. When you’re younger you’re just sort of going crazy trying to do whatever it takes to make the team and you forget to enjoy it.
“Now,” he added, “I’m actually getting to enjoy it.”
Donovan is one of just nine players in this camp who made the 2010 World Cup roster, and one of only six field players who saw minutes in South Africa. While Klinsmann’s 30-man roster has been touted for its mix of youth and experience from both the United States and Europe, it’s a team that will inevitably lean on newcomers similar to 2002, when he and fellow youngster DaMarcus Beasley broke onto the scene.
But for at one least veteran who’s known the Galaxy star for years – starting goalkeeper Tim Howard – having Donovan on the field in Brazil is a must for the USMNT.
“For me, it’s a very easy equation: If Landon is on the field, he’s our top one or two players,” Howard said. “That’s just my opinion … For me, he’s easily one of our best players and he strikes fear in our opponents.”
As for the inevitable questions about his legacy and what one last World Cup will mean, Donovan steered clear of any sentimental stories.
After all, he’s too busy staring down an uncertain future to concern himself with the past.
“I am in the moment,” he said sternly, before joking with reporters. “One day I’ll have time for that. We’ll sit down and reminisce one day, huh?”