After Lackluster World Cup, Donovan's Focus Is Galaxy

Landon Donovan
Galaxy striker Landon Donovan is back to being his dominant self after a disappointing performance at the World Cup. (Danny Moloshok - AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 26, 2006

On the short bus ride from practice to the team hotel in Crystal City yesterday, Landon Donovan and a few of his Los Angeles Galaxy teammates playfully speculated about the makeup of the next U.S. World Cup squad.

Sure, the next World Cup is a full four years away. But there may be no player who would like to ditch the past and begin embracing the future more quickly than Donovan. His self-acknowledged sub-par play made him the target of intense criticism and, to many, a symbol of the Americans' futility during a winless campaign in Germany this summer.

"For me, that was the first time I had really been criticized like that -- it's a little eye-opening," Donovan said yesterday as the Galaxy prepared for tonight's MLS match against D.C. United at RFK Stadium.

"The human psyche is [conditioned] to find blame somewhere and I realize that a lot of times when the team does well, I get credit I shouldn't get, and a lot of time when it goes bad, I get criticism I don't deserve. A lot of the criticism after the World Cup was fair, too. I know I didn't play well."

In the buildup to the tournament, expectations surrounding Donovan and the U.S. squad soared. Despite being just 24, Donovan was projected as the attacking leader of a confident program attempting to replicate its 2002 quarterfinal run in Japan and South Korea.

Instead, Donovan's play was strangely tepid. He seemed to overanalyze developing situations and did not take initiative. His free kicks were off the mark, he was often overmatched in one-on-one confrontations and his energy level appeared low.

"I should've been more aggressive," he said. "I just felt like half the time I was out there I was just going through the motions. What's the point of being there?

"That's really disappointing for me because I thought I was smarter and I thought I would realize that more. I didn't until it was over, and that's frustrating because you can't go back."

Bruce Arena, who coached the United States in the last two World Cups, said he thinks too much was expected of both Donovan (who scored twice in the 2002 World Cup) and the team.

"In 2002, there were other players expected to pick up the load," said Arena, whose contract was not renewed in the aftermath of the team's 0-2-1 record and its failure to advance past the first round. "In 2006, there was a lot of responsibility on Landon's shoulders and that's still a challenge for a young pro in our country.

"Having said that, most of the players around Landon didn't play that well either. It's easy to point fingers in those situations. He's one of the targets, I'm one of the targets, but that's all part of it."

A difficult first-round group played a part in the U.S. demise, Donovan said, but so did the team's lack of hunger.

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