At first glance, the U.S. men's soccer team roster for Sunday's friendly match against Argentina at RFK Stadium doesn't offer many surprises. Keller, Jones, Stewart, Reyna, Moore, Friedel, Kirovski, Agoos . . .
But upon closer inspection, one player stands out. It's not because he lacks credentials -- he has 30 goals and 13 assists in 32 international games the past two years -- and it's not that anyone ever doubted he'd eventually receive an invitation to national training camp.
What makes forward Landon Donovan so intriguing is that he just turned 17.
"When I first came into camp, I was like, `Wow, there's Cobi Jones, there's Claudio Reyna,' " he said. "It's incredible that I'm here. It's everything I expected."
After just a few days of practice at United Park in Herndon this week, U.S. Coach Bruce Arena was sold on Donovan.
"We brought him in to see what he's like, see where he's at, see where he needs to go and whether he's a player we need to think about in the future," Arena said. "I now know the answer to that. It's yes."
Coming from Arena, who's not known for hyperbolic assessment, that statement means a lot. Although Arena said he has no plans to play Donovan on Sunday against a two-time World Cup champion, he has now seen what youth coaches have been raving about for years.
Donovan is from Redlands, Calif., and has been piling up goals at a dazzling rate for the U.S. under-17 national team, which will compete at the FIFA world championships this fall in New Zealand. He won't be on the American college scene or in Major League Soccer anytime soon because in April he signed a four-year contract (with two option years) with Bayer Leverkusen of the German Bundesliga, one of the world's top professional leagues. He'll reportedly earn $100,000 a year.
U.S. soccer officials are trying to temper their enthusiasm about Donovan's emergence by saying he still needs to prove himself over a long period at the international level. But beyond the flashy statistics, Donovan has proven he's more than a one-dimensional goal scorer. He has excellent skills and is very quick. He creates scoring opportunities for himself and teammates and is evasive enough to avoid the physical punishment often inflicted on high-profile offensive players.
No one has seen him play more than U.S. under-17 coach John Ellinger, who said: "He can turn the corner on you with the ball, he can come at you and beat you, he's got a quick shot. He's a special player. . . .
"Bruce is basically on a fact-finding mission. He knows Landon can play, but at the national team level it's more challenging. Landon's comment to me after the first practice [Monday] was, `It's a pretty fast pace out there.' But he'll adjust to it. It won't take him long to fit in."
Donovan's pro career will get underway in about three weeks, when he arrives in Germany for preseason training. Until the world championships are completed, he plans to shuttle between the United States and Germany at least once a month. He also will play in the Pan American Games in Winnipeg this summer. His education isn't a concern at the moment, since he passed a high school equivalency exam recently.
Donovan has been told he'll begin with Leverkusen's reserves -- as most teenage prospects do -- and "when I'm ready, I'll go up to the first team, hopefully," he said. "I can't wait to go. I want to show them what I can do."
Leverkusen spotted Donovan at a youth tournament in France in April 1998 and kept track of his progress. His finest moments this year were scoring two goals in a 4-3 upset over Argentina in Buenos Aires and two-goal games against Costa Rica and Honduras in regional qualifying games for the world championships. Donovan has scored in 14 of the squad's 20 games this year.
As for the U.S. national team, Arena plans to monitor Donovan closely in Germany. With the exception of three-time World Cup player Eric Wynalda, the United States hasn't had many prolific international goal scorers.
There are several U.S. forwards with specialties, but no one has come along with the dual threat of creating chances and finishing them. Donovan may be the answer for the national team, but not right now.
"He's going to be a very good player," Ellinger said. "He has all the skills, everything you want in a forward. He's determined to succeed."
CAPTION: Landon Donovan, a player to watch.