ussoccer.com: You came back into the team after a year for the Gold Cup and were part of a team that had a very successful tournament. Is it any different coming back into this group and getting back into participating in World Cup Qualifying?
Landon Donovan: “It doesn’t feel different, although on the surface there are differences. For me it was just being part of the group again. In the past when I was a more regular part of the group, the team was regularly changing all the time. It sort of feels that way, although I’m in a different position where I have to continue to prove I belong here. The vibe still feels the same, and there is still a commonality in what we need to do.”
ussoccer.com: Have you had any conversations with some of the guys you didn’t see in the Gold Cup and haven’t been around in a while?
LD: “Yeah. It’s nice to see a lot of the faces and catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while. Everybody’s been real supportive and welcoming. It’s just good to be back with these guys and I’m excited to play with them again.”
ussoccer.com: Were you nervous?
LD: “No. I was a little nervous going in before the Gold Cup because it had been so long. But, I really feel l like I deserve to be here. I feel like I’ve really earned it, and I also feel like I can really help. So even if I’m not playing, I think there’s ways I can be impactful and help the group. In a perfect world I get to play, but at the end of the day I want us to qualify and I want us to do well in the World Cup regardless of how much I contribute on the field.”
ussoccer.com: One of the things you bring is experience. Having been a part of these stretch runs in the past and knowing what the challenge is like in Costa Rica, what will you say to the guys in the group who haven’t been in this spot before?
LD: “The hardest thing to do in this whole process is finish it off. Everybody is playing each other along the way and you’re picking up points along the way, but when it gets down to the end and you need points to qualify, the stakes get raised. There’s more pressure, and there can be more tension. What I would emphasize is to just continue on the path we’ve been on. This team is in such good form right now. The confidence is so high. The camaraderie is really good in the group. We don’t need to worry about external stuff and just focus on playing because we’re talented enough and we have a good enough team that we can get results in these next couple games and we can be celebrating in a really big way Tuesday night.”
ussoccer.com: You mention the confidence of the team at this point. Have you ever had a better feeling about the group going into matches like this?
LD: “I don’t think I’ve ever felt as confident about getting a result on one of these trips. In theory, there are small advantages in not playing at Saprissa and that the weather is going to be cooperative, but that only matters if you make it an advantage. We need to go in with the mindset that we absolutely can win this game, and that has to be the mentality. If we carry that energy and that belief onto the field Friday night, everyone is going to sense it on both teams and we have a real chance to do something special.”
ussoccer.com: Is that different than in the past?
LD: “There’s always a little doubt just because we’ve never done it before. That was also the case in Mexico. That was also the case before the team won in Italy. I think we’re at a point now in U.S. Soccer where we can really start to believe these things are possible and have it be realistic. That doesn’t mean it happens every time. We go in expecting to be at least on the same level as them and have a realistic chance to win that game.”
ussoccer.com: Having been a part of four World Cup Qualifying campaigns how is this one different from your perspective?
LD: “The obvious reasons are that I haven’t been a part of this campaign much. I’ve really seen the team develop in a really positive way, and not just how the team is playing together. The quality of players we have and the quality of teams our players are playing for around the world and playing regularly is better than ever before. It’s not just ‘we have a guy at Everton or we have a guy at Roma’ or that we have the best centerback in MLS playing in Los Angeles. We have that quality all over the field and guys playing at great clubs all over the world. I always remember looking at the rosters from big teams around the world when we would play friendlies against Brazil or Italy or Spain, and you see all these names and all these great clubs. Now we’re like that, and I’m sure that when other teams look at our roster they see big names playing all over MLS, big names playing all over Mexico, big names playing all over Europe, and that has to be intimidating to some extent. It’s really cool to see the development and the growth of the team that way.”
ussoccer.com: Before each game, players have a picture in their mind of how things are going to play out. What was the picture in your mind heading into these qualifiers?
LD: “For me it’s really simple. There would be no better feeling than standing on the field in Columbus on Tuesday night and all of us celebrating. I can envision scarves around our neck, American flags, the crowd going crazy and everybody celebrating together. That would be an incredible moment, but there is a lot that has to happen before that. The beauty of it is that it’s all in our hands. The last thing you want to do in these situations is come down to games nine or 10 having to qualify. Nothing is guaranteed in World Cup Qualifying. It happens every time where big teams don’t qualify for the World Cup. We’ve put ourselves in a fantastic position and now we need to really smell the blood and go for it and finish it off.”