Landon Donovan has hailed the impact of David Beckham in helping soccer to flourish in the USA ahead of Saturday's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ clash with England in Rustenburg.
Donovan had been critical of Beckham's decision to join AC Milan on loan for the first spell from LA Galaxy, with the England star responding by describing his Galaxy team-mate as "unprofessional. But the pair have sorted out their differences and Donovan has nothing but praise for Beckham's positive influence on the game in the USA.
He said: "David has been terrific in every way. I think he will tell you initially on the field it was difficult for him to understand the way the game was played (in America). But he has adapted well, as he always does, and before he was injured he was a big part of our team last year.
Off the field, he has almost single-handedly brought an awareness to our game that wasn't there before.
"Off the field, he has almost single-handedly brought an awareness to our game that wasn't there before. It would be one thing if he did that subconsciously without knowing and without putting effort into it, but he puts a lot into helping grow the game in our country and we all appreciate that."
Donovan is aware that success against England would further help the profile of the game in the USA. He said: "Everyone is aware of what this game means back home. For the last six months all we have seen is things about USA-England. If you were a casual sports fan back home, you might think that this is the World Cup final. You wouldn't know any different.
"We are not like Brazil, where soccer is still the biggest game even if they don't win a World Cup. For us, everytime we have an opportunity to play, we have an opportunity to grow the sport and we clearly understand every four years that is magnified at a World Cup."
Donovan believes he has developed as a player given the experience he has acquired since appearing as a 20-year-old in the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ finals. "As far as soccer goes, I am more or less the same as I have been throughout my career, the way I play, the way I do things," he said. "You become better in certain areas. I have worked a lot on my weaknesses. Tactically, I have learnt a lot and you have the experience of playing in a lot of games.
"In 2002, mentally, I was almost a completely different person and there are pluses and minuses to that. Being young and not knowing anything can be very positive at times and it was the case in that tournament.
"Now I strive to keep that youthfulness when I am playing mixed with that experience of knowing what to do in certain situations and what not to do. In 2002 I played completely from my heart and just went for it. Now I play from my heart but with a little mixture of keeping my mind in the right place so I don't do anything stupid."