Soccer  > World Cup  > Donovan buries 2006 World Cup memory
June 10, 2010, 02:28 PM
By Michael Lewis

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- To Landon Donovan, the 2006 World Cup was a lifetime ago.

After an underwhelming performance in Germany, Donovan says he has scrubbed the bad memories.

Donovan will need to be a key figure if the United States is to advance to the second round. The Americans open their World Cup against England on Saturday.

Heading into the 2006 World Cup, Donovan was the face of American soccer. He seemingly answered every reporter's question, agreed to every TV interview request and did countless promotions.

This time, he is more focused. At 28, Donovan should be at the peak of his physical form and experience. When the 2014 World Cup comes in Brazil, he will be on the other side of 30.

"I'm prepared," he said. "I know the qualities I have as a player, as a person, as an athlete, and I'm prepared for this moment. I wasn't prepared in 2006. When you feel this prepared, you don't worry about if it's going to go well on the day. I know I'm going to play well Saturday, and then it's how does our team do and what happens in the game."

Donovan, who played with Everton in the English Premier League on loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy this past winter, downplayed Saturday's Group C encounter, which is one of the most anticipated games of the first round.

"In the bigger picture, it's just one of three games," Donovan said. "We understand that they're all equally important in that way. Aside from that, the other part of it is knowing what this game means back home. For the last six months all we've seen is U.S-England, so if you were a casual sports fan at home you might think this is the World Cup final, you wouldn't know any different. I understand that.

"We can win Saturday and not advance and I'd be disappointed, or we could lose Saturday and end up advancing and I'd be equally happy."

Donovan's first World Cup was as a 20-year-old in Korea Republic in 2002 as the upstart U.S. reached the quarterfinals with a 2-0 win over CONCACAF rival Mexico in the second round.

In that competition, Donovan was a talented, if somewhat na??ve, prodigy still learning nuances of international soccer and unaware of all the demands and distractions that go with a World Cup. Today, he is a polished veteran with many more responsibilities and expectations.

"As far as soccer goes, I'm more or less what I have been for most of my career," Donovan said. "The way I play, the way I do things. Obviously I've become better in certain areas, I've worked a lot at my weaknesses on the field and tried to get better. Tactically you learn a lot just from the experience of playing in a lot of games. You'll learn things.

"Looking back now at that player mentally, it's almost like a completely different person," he said. "There were pluses and minuses to that. Being young and not knowing anything can be very positive sometimes. It certainly was in that tournament.

"Now what I strive to do is keep that youthfulness when I'm playing mixed with the experience that I have, and how to play in certain situations," he added. "In 2002 I played completely from my heart and just went for it. Now I'm striving to play completely from my heart, with a little mixture of keeping my mind in the right place so I cannot do anything stupid."

While he is the most experienced American player in his third World Cup, Donovan prefers to lead by example.

"I think in the past when I thought about leadership, it meant doing more things to help other people," he said. "I'm best leading when I'm focused on what I'm doing well. I think my energy and the way I play is a form of leadership on the field and I think other guys feed off of that. I'm aware of that, and I'm also aware that I don't need to yell at guys, or say things all the time. I'm certainly at my best when I'm focused on myself."

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