HAMBURG, Germany (June 19, 2006) – Earlier this World Cup, Landon Donovan joked with the media that he would be playing right back.
No one would have guessed that during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Italy, when he was occasionally defending in that spot, Donovan would find his World Cup form.
“I think that he emerged in this game,” U.S. manager Bruce Arena said. “He demonstrated to the world, and more importantly his teammates, that he is a great player in any kind of game. Landon did things against Italy that I’ve never seen him do before.”
Red cards reduced the game to nine players in white vs. 10 players in the azzurri blue, and the U.S. played much of the second half out of a 4-3-1 formation where Donovan and Steve Cherundolo found themselves responsible for attacking and defending on the right side of the field.
“There wasn’t anything that he didn’t do in this game,” Arena said . “The defending, and the working relationship he had with Cherundolo at times, and the working relationship with Claudio (Reyna), and defending in a game against good players in a significant match. He was fantastic.”
Donovan’s forward runs up the center of the field fueled the U.S. attack, and on the other end of the field he often found himself defending one-on-one with the top offensive players from Italy, including Alessandro del Piero of Juventus.
“After Eddie’s (Pope) red card, you go into instinctual mode in ‘How do you play this game? How do you get a result out of this, and at the same time, how can we create a couple of chances to maybe steal a win?’” Donovan said.
Following the 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, the U.S. and some of the players said that they took an initial hit to their confidence. However, Arena and the players said that, after reviewing the tape of the game, they didn’t believe the team played as badly as the result showed on the scoreboard.
“It was frustrating because I know I took a lot of heat for the Czech game – fair enough – but I didn’t feel that I’d played terribly,” Donovan said, echoing Arena’s analysis of the team in general. “I just didn’t get enough of the ball. Part of that is me, part of that is not getting the ball, and part of that is it not bouncing the right way. Those are all things that happened.”
Arena called out Donovan – among other players – for not being aggressive enough during the defeat to the Czech Republic. Donovan said that during the break between games he talked to everyone from the coaching staff to the players to even Frankie Hejduk, who is at the World Cup as a fan and working on his rehab.
“I took a long time over the couple of days leading up to the Italy game and talked to a lot of people including the man over there on the left (Arena) – or they talked to me – to make sure I would be ready,” Donovan said.
It appeared that the words of his coaches and teammates paid dividends in Donovan’s play, and Arena shared his opinion of the U.S. all-time assist leader when asked about what he said to him before the Italy game.
“I believe in Landon,” Arena said. “I think he is a great player. He’s still 24 years old. It’s not like he’s been through the wars and fully developed at the international level. He’s got a lot of great years ahead of him.”