USA talisman, creator-in-chief and all-round poster boy Landon Donovan sat down for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com on the eve of the crucial second Group C clash with Slovenia. Looking sharp and incisive all over the pitch in the 1-1 opening draw with England, the LA Galaxy man, America’s all-time top scorer and six-time footballer of the year, is keen to keep on getting better here in South Africa.
Among the topics open for discussion were the boost in confidence that came from the point against Wayne Rooney and his much-fancied England team, as well as Donovan's reflections on his status as the face of American soccer and his sincere excitement to be driving FIFA World Cup™ fever back home in the States.
FIFA: What did you learn from the 1-1 draw with England?
Landon Donovan: I think the England game solidified some beliefs we already had, that we can compete with teams of their calibre. We were left a little disappointed that we weren't better when we had chances to go forward. But for the first game of a World Cup, against England, it was a great result for us.
And your thoughts looking ahead to the game with Slovenia on Friday in Johannesburg?
The natural tendency after coming off that high is a lot of times a letdown. We have to make sure that doesn't happen. We talked all along about the importance of playing three games and while there was a lot made of our game with England, we understand that this game is equally important. In some ways, it's more important because if we lose this game, we are likely out of the tournament.
How would you say your form is at the moment? You looked pretty good against England, but what is your take on it?
I feel good. Against England it was a little difficult because we didn't have much of the ball, so I didn't have a lot of time to make an impact offensively. I feel good about where I am going, and I feel like in the next two games I am going to get a lot better.
You've mentioned that you're a different player from when you played in your first FIFA World Cup in 2002, how you're playing with your heart and mind now. Can you elaborate on that?
When you're young, it's easy. In [Korea/Japan] 2002 it was very easy because I didn't think about a lot, I didn't have to worry about the team or other players. I just went out every day and tried to be as good as I could be. As you get older, you realise how important it is for everybody to be in it together if you want to succeed. But you can't let that overwhelm you, and you can't let that take away from what you are doing personally on the field. So I always play best, and I feel like the team plays best, when I am concentrating on what I do well. And when I do that, we've been successful.
You've been the face of US soccer for over a decade now. Is it a burden or a privilege?
It used to be a burden, speaking candidly. And it used to be a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I realise now that I don't put that moniker on myself, other people do, and I was given the ability at birth to do something. If I don't make the most of it, that's disappointing. And so I can either run from it, or I can embrace it. Now I choose to embrace it.
What does your coach Bob Bradley bring to the squad? He seems quite a serious character.
After the game against England, something dawned on me. In the past there would have been a real excitement, almost overboard excitement, about the result. And I think Bob, whether he does it intentionally or not, is immediately on to the next thing and the next task and the next goal. We as players feed off that. There was some happiness right after the game on the field, but as soon as I got to the locker-room, I was thinking about Slovenia. And I think that's an attitude that Bob emits, and I think the rest of us pick up on it.
There seems to be a quiet confidence in the USA team. Would you categorise it that way?
We're in a very good place right now. The bus ride home was a lot better after the draw against England. We are confident that Slovenia are a team that we can beat, and it's like a final for us. If we draw the game we are still alive, and if we lose the game it's highly unlikely we will advance. And we know if we win the game we are in a very good position. So this is as big a game as we will ever play. The guys are excited and ready for it.
It is estimated that 12 million people back home in the States watched the game with England. Is this something you have a sense of here?
Yes, I hear from friends, family and through Facebook just how many people are watching. The interesting thing has been people that know me for me since I was little, and either do or don't have an interest in soccer, have been telling me how unbelievable it is over there. Walking around town, people are wearing jerseys and talking about the World Cup, talking about our team and Friday's game against Slovenia. It doesn't happen like that for us very often: in other countries that's the norm, but for us that's really special. And one day I am excited to experience that as a fan too, because when you're here you're kind of removed from all of it.