Landon Donovan has been the USA’s talisman for near a full decade now. With excellent pace and vision, a keen eye for goal and that little touch of class that all teams need to succeed, the Southern California native has become the United States’ all-time top scorer with over 40 goals in 121 caps. The playmaker, most at home in the hole behind the centre-forward, has on six occasions been named the North American nation’s Player of the Year.
With a handful of games gone in the current Major League Soccer campaign, Donovan is leading the league in assists and has his LA Galaxy leading the table. With a busy schedule at the moment – the FIFA World Cup™ is right around the corner and MLS is in full swing – the 28-year-old schemer found time for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com. The topics up for discussion: Donovan’s recent successful loan sting with Everton in the English Premier League, his firm belief that, on their day, the USA can beat anyone, last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa and the state of Bob Bradley’s USA squad on the eve of a return to that beautiful country for what will be Donovan’s third FIFA World Cup.
FIFA.com: You recently had a successful loan spell with Everton. Can you talk a little about what the experience was like for you personally?
Landon Donovan: The experience was a priceless one for me. The games were always fast and ultra-competitive and my time there certainly made me a better player. I loved playing at Goodison Park [Everton’s home ground]. I feel like I had to earn the respect of the fans, and once I did, they were always going to support me. I would absolutely consider going back to England if the opportunity ever presented itself again.
How has the transition been for you going back to LA Galaxy and MLS? Even with an injury to David Beckham, the team has started well and sit first place in the league’s Western Conference and on overall points.
The transition has been really easy because we have almost our entire team coming back from last year [when the side went to the final of MLS Cup] and playing again for the Galaxy. I think our team is not only good, but also very deep. We have a lot of games to play this year because of our qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League and the depth in our roster will be crucial to our success. We feel very good about our chances of getting back to MLS Cup again.
The FIFA World Cup in South Africa is just months away. How do you see the USA team shaping up at present?
We are obviously still a little unsure as to how our roster will shape up because of some key injuries (the likes of Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies are expected to be sidelined) but we are all very excited for June to get here and to get started.
Injuries to players like Onyewu and Davies could force Bob Bradley into some changes. Do you think the squad is deep enough for other players to step up and fill these possible holes adequately?
We have had no choice recently but to play some guys in positions that they aren't used to playing and I actually think that will help us during the World Cup. It always helps to have players that are comfortable playing in a lot of different positions.
Having reached the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, would you say that expectations within the team – and for yourself personally – are higher than they might be otherwise?
The expectations are simple: advance out of our group to the knockout rounds and go from there. We think that is a realistic goal.
What major lessons did you take away from the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa?
The biggest thing we learned was that we can compete with and beat any team in the world if we play our best. Not many teams in the world can say that.
The first game is against a high profile opponent: England. What are your feelings ahead of this game? Is it a good opener for this US team, or would you have preferred a softer landing?
The scheduling of the games is beyond our control. England happens to be our first game and we will put everything we have into winning that game and worry about the rest later, as they come.
Would you say that the current US national team is the strongest one that you’ve been a part of?
It's hard to know where this team ranks compared to other Americans teams but I am very confident that this team has the ability to do something special.
And where, in your mind, does the team need to improve before lining up against the English in Rustenburg?
The biggest thing for us right now is making sure that everyone is healthy. If we are completely healthy, we have a good chance to advance out of our group.
How far do you think the USA can go at South Africa 2010?
I won't make predictions but, as I said earlier, we feel that we are good enough to beat any team in the world if we play our best. The challenge will be to bring that effort to every game during the World Cup in South Africa.