By IVES GALARCEP
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica– Landon Donovan has played in 151 games for the U.S. Men’s National Team, so he can be forgiven for not always remembering them all, even ones he has scored in. So when he was asked about the U.S. team’s last visit to Costa Rica, Donovan started speaking about the match as if he hadn’t played in, and scored in that forgettable 3-1 Costa Rica triumph on June 3, 2009.
“Oh, THAT game,” Donovan replied when reminded of his participation, and goal in the U.S. team’s seventh straight, and most recent, defeat here. “I never felt like we were in the game, which is crazy for our national team to say, but they were all over us from the beginning and they never let down.
“It was frustrating, and at that point we were in a difficult spot. They put us in a hole and it was a tough night,” Donovan added. “If you were going to draw up a picture of what an away qualifier in Costa Rica was going to look like, that was sort of it.”
Donovan sees a far different outcome playing out tonight in Estadio Nacional, with a confident U.S. team poised to attack the ‘Ticos” in a way American teams have not attacked before when on the road in qualifying. The Los Angeles Galaxy star should be a key part of that attack, and he feels he is heading into this month’s World Cup qualifiers playing the best soccer of his career.
“If I had to evaluate I’d say this is the best I’ve ever played because the energy I had when I was 20 is pretty close to being matched now, but I have the experience of all the years,” Donovan said. “Everything has really slowed down for me now. I see everything very clearly on the field. Everything sort of makes sense. Not every play is perfect, but I feel like every time I get the ball I have a real chance to impact the game, and it’s a great feeling.”
Donovan is one of several American players riding good form into tonight’s match. A trend that has helped produce a 12-match winning streak for the U.S., and helped give the Americans a real belief that they can deliver their first win here in World Cup qualifying history.
“It’s not cocky, but it’s very confident that we’re going to do well (tonight),” Donovan said. “it’s going to look different than any other qualifier has ever looked here for the U.S.
“I think we go into it with that attitude,” Donovan said. “If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, but we’re going to go in with the mentality and the attitude that we want to win this game.”
It is almost hard to believe that just three months ago Donovan’s place with the national team appeared to be in question after Jurgen Klinsmann declined to call up up for World Cup qualifiers in June. His triumphant return in July’s Gold Cup, when he won tournament MVP on the way to helping the Americans lift another CONCACAF title, re-established Donovan as an indispensable part of the team, and one who will be a key to the team’s fortunes going forward.
“He’s a guy that if we want to play more than three games at a World Cup, we need Landon,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Whether that’s as a starter, as a reserve, who knows? The same holds true for any of us. But if we’re going to be a team that goes to Brazil next year and has a real chance at making a good run at things, we need him around.”
Donovan will be facing a Costa Rica side he enjoyed success against in the Gold Cup. His pin-point assist in the dying seconds of regulation helped set up a Brek Shea winner in a 1-0 victory over the Ticos. It was a match that saw Costa Rica bunker defensively while the Americans attacked in waves.
That sort of match is unlikely to play out on Friday.
“We played them in the Gold Cup and we just went and went and went for 90 minutes and we finally broke them down,” Donovan said. “My guess is they’re not going to play that way at home in front of their crowd. If they do they’ll probably get booed off the pitch.
“If that’s the type of game they want to play I think we’re comfortable playing that, opening the game up and going for it.”
The team Donovan will help lead out against Costa Rica will be one with a wealth of attacking options. A team he believes is the deepest U.S. team he has ever played on.
“Yeah, unquestioned,” Donovan said when asked about the current U.S. team’s status as deepest ever. “When you see a bunch of guys that don’t get called in that absolutely deserve to be here too it tells you that the team is very deep. There’s a lot of guy that can make a case that they should be here that aren’t.
“It’s tough and it’s going to be that way all the way through Brazil next year, assuming we qualify. I think that’s a good thing,” Donovan said. “That’s how the best national teams in the world operate and that’s how we want to be if we’re going to get to where we want to go.”
Donovan doesn’t see the team’s impressive depth as a threat to his ability to play in a fourth World Cup. What he sees is a strong team with impressive young players he wants to help mentor and lead. After having spent so much time away from the national team between last year and the first part of 2013, Donovan is just happy to be back in the fold, and eager to do his part on a U.S. team that has the makings of a special group.
“I want to help the team get to where it wants to go,” Donovan said. “You want to help all the young guys who have never played in a World Cup. You want them to have that feeling where they’re on the field celebrating because they’ve qualified for a World Cup.
“Hopefully, if things go right, you want to get to Brazil a month or so before the World Cup and experience that with those guys and I want to be a part of that.”