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Archive for Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Called on the carpet

Donovan could be key to Team USA’s survival

June 21, 2006

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— Landon Donovan kept getting advice, not goals.

Coach Bruce Arena criticized his play in the opening loss to the Czech Republic, and there was no shortage of teammates and staff who spoke with him, attempting to prod the prodigy back on track.

Donovan responded in last weekend's exhilarating 1-1 tie against Italy, and now heads into Thursday's must-win game against Ghana with the confidence he lacked against the Czechs.

"I think he emerged in this game and demonstrated to the world, but more importantly to his teammates, that he's a great player in any kind of game," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said Monday. "Landon did things against Italy I've never seen him do before. He was a warrior on the field."

It's a pretty easy formula that will get the Americans to the second round: win and get help. The simplest scenario would be a U.S. victory coupled with an Italian win over the Czech Republic. Other possibilities are remote.

So, as far as Donovan is concerned, all the fouls in the tie with Italy on Saturday night are forgiven.

Team USA midfielder Landon Donovan dribbles the ball during a training session. Donovan has shown two sides to his game during the 2006 World Cup - lacking aggressiveness in the opener against the Czech Republic while rebounding to play an intense game Saturday against Italy. The big question for the U.S. is how he performs Thursday in a must-win game against Ghana.

Team USA midfielder Landon Donovan dribbles the ball during a training session. Donovan has shown two sides to his game during the 2006 World Cup - lacking aggressiveness in the opener against the Czech Republic while rebounding to play an intense game Saturday against Italy. The big question for the U.S. is how he performs Thursday in a must-win game against Ghana.

"Listen, I'm rooting Italy for the rest of the week," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, they're the nicest guys in the world."

At times it's hard to forget that while he's a two-time World Cup veteran, he's still just 24. His 25 international goals are third in U.S. history, behind Eric Wynalda (34) and Brian McBride (30), but he's been blanked in 17 national team games since last July 9 against Canada.

Scoring has proved to be troublesome at this World Cup for the Americans, who lost to the Czechs 3-0 and came from behind against Italy when Azzurri defender Cristian Zaccardo flubbed a clearance attempt into his own net.

After two games, the Americans' shots-on-goal total stands at one.

"It's not lost on the U.S. that we haven't scored a goal," Donovan said.

If the Americans make the second round, they likely would face defending champion Brazil. And they'll have to play Ghana without the experience of defender Eddie Pope and midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, both suspended following their ejections Saturday.

As time passes, and others retire, get hurt or sit out, Donovan is becoming one of the more experienced players on the field. In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, he often talked about expectations people have for him, and it was unclear whether the lofty goals were an incentive to meet or a burden to bear.

"The last time it was more I could be the kid and just help out where I could," he said. "Now there's a lot more dependance on me to perform consistently."

After the Czech Republic debacle, Arena took a volley at Donovan that was harder than any American shot during the game.

"Landon showed no aggressiveness tonight," his coach said.

Donovan spoke with many people in the next few days, including Arena, assistant coaches and Frankie Hejduk, who was on the World Cup roster before he injured a knee.

"Or they talked to me, I should say," Donovan corrected himself. "It was pretty clear what the message was: Be more aggressive, and you're good enough to play at this level."

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