Which is good because I interviewed Landon Donovan on the weekend.
More on that in a bit.
I asked Donovan, who is likely to take sole possession of the all-time U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup qualifying appearance record when he plays against El Salvador in Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday (he’s currently tied at 32 games with Kasey Keller, Eddie Pope, and Claudio Reyna), about the importance of the game:
“It’s a massive, massive game,” he said. “And candidly if we can’t beat El Salvador at home we don’t deserve to go to the World Cup.”
And the best way to beat them is to get the early goal, he said, adding other keys were:
“Be aggressive. Make it hard on them. They’re a team with players that don’t play high level games consistently throughout the year, so we have to push the game. It’s at altitude, wear them out and then take our chances.
Could only get in two questions, I’m afraid and sadly I won’t be heading to Utah for the game.
Now more about that swine flu in this wire service story:
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — U.S. forward Landon Donovan has had nearly a month to recover from swine flu and needed more of that time than he expected.
The Galaxy midfielder played through the illness on Aug. 12 in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico, surviving all 90 minutes in the altitude of Mexico City. He knew he was sick – and exhausted after the 2-1 loss to Mexico – but didn’t learn the diagnosis until a couple of days later.
The United States returns to qualifying with two games in the next week, starting with El
Salvador on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium south of Salt Lake City.
Donovan will be making his 117th international appearance and says he’s healthy again – finally.
“Any time you’re sick it takes a long time to get back to health. It probably took another
week after that game and then I felt normal,” Donovan said after practice Wednesday. “I’m back to 100 percent.”
At 27, Donovan is a veteran on a young U.S. squad, which is largely the same lineup coach Bob Bradley chose for the qualifier last month in Mexico. Donovan was a young, rising U.S. star when he played in his first two World Cups in 2002 and 2006, but now is one of the most experienced players and is trying to help lead the American youngsters through qualifying.
“The experience factor isn’t there like it was with other teams, but we’re learning. We’re
getting better and this is a big game for us,” Donovan said.
Just a few days after the El Salvador game, the United States plays at Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday in another qualifier. The Americans (3-1-2) enter this round in third place in North and Central America and the Caribbean group with four games left to play.
The top three teams qualify for the World Cup next summer in South Africa. The Americans are actually tied in points with Honduras, but Honduras is ahead in the standings because of goal difference.
That makes the final four qualifiers crucial.
Saturday’s game is a rematch of a 2-2 draw played in San Salvador in March. The United States fell behind 2-0, then rallied to salvage a point from the trip. Had the Americans won it, they would be alone in second place.
“A couple things we did poorly, they made us pay for it. It’s unfortunate that we kind of
turned it on so late,” Donovan said. “At the end of the day when you have a bad day, it’s
better to get a point than get nothing out of the game. That’s a game looking back we feel we should have won.”
Donovan is the U.S. all-time leader in goals and assists and has scored 11 times in
qualifying, most recently in a 2-1 win over Honduras on June 6. He plays for Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy and is one of the headliners whenever his club visits Real Salt Lake.
He played here in the MLS All-Star Game in July and nearly got a couple shots past Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, who will be in the U.S. goal on Saturday night.
“Landon has just a great combination of skills. He’s a very dynamic player. He has speed and he’s got the ability to change directions – slow down, speed up – and he combines that with the technical ability,” Bradley said. “He reacts very well to situations around him. He sees things a little faster than the defenders. You put all that together it makes him always a threat.”
Bradley is glad to have Donovan back healthy again. The final two qualifiers are in October against Costa Rica and Honduras – the top two teams in the group standings – and the U.S. team can’t afford to slip further behind by getting upset in these next two games.