9513_donovanlandon_jo_i-3fx46gt-xl Jeremy Olson
Deep thoughts

The Rapid Redemption of Landon Donovan

The United States national team star is back with the first team and playing what he calls the best soccer of his life. Donovan, Klinsmann, and Bradley on an essential piece of the American puzzle.
BY Noah Davis Posted
September 05, 2013
5:57 PM
LANDON DONOVAN did not talk to the press on Wednesday afternoon. Instead, he warmed up with most of the squad while teammates including Tim Howard and Michael Bradley did the dirty work in speaking to a gathering of reporters.

On a few different occasions, a ball would hit the goalkeeper or midfielder softly in the back of the leg.

The culprit?

Donovan, sporting an impish grin and a look that said, "stop talking to the press so we can practice!"

The United States' all-time leading scorer is very much present, and eager to get on the field and play.

"I'm just excited to be back here and be a part of it, but I'm not a 19-year-old where I'm just happy to be here. I want to really help. That doesn’t have to mean on the field, but I want to contribute and I want to help the team get to where it wants to go," he told the same group of reporters at the U.S.'s hotel on Thursday afternoon.

Donovan, who rather famously went on a walkabout in Cambodia and missed a number of U.S. qualifiers, sat underneath an oil painting of an idyllic forest. A stream ran through the image.

He discussed his current form: “I guess if I had to evaluate, I’d say this is the best I’ve ever played. The energy I had when I was 20 is pretty close to being matched now, but I have the experience of all the years. Everything has really slowed down for me now. I see everything very clearly on the field. Everything sort of makes sense. Not every play is perfect, but I feel like every time I get the ball I have a real chance to impact the game. That’s a great feeling. I’m just going to keep enjoying it."

The team is enjoying his presence as well, for what he adds on and off the field.

"When he's fresh and inspired and looks at things very positively, then he gives you another card to play, which is big for us. All those things have to come from his inside," head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in a press conference. "In training sessions right now he's working hard. And that's wonderful to see. We are very pleased. We didn't know what direction it would go because he didn't know a year ago. That's okay. I always say that it's his decision. Every player makes his own decisions of what he wants to do with his life, his career, where he wants to play, and what's his next step."

For Donovan, that step is to continue to reintegrate into the U.S. squad and to be in Brazil when the team plays at the World Cup in a year. Michael Bradley, for one, knows the Stars and Stripes will require the attacker's services.

"If we want to play more than three games at a World Cup, we need Landon," the midfielder said "Whether that’s as a starter as a reserve, who knows? The same holds true for any of us. If we’re going to be a team that goes to Brazil next year and has a real chance of making a good run at things, we need him around."

It would be the Los Angeles Galaxy star's fourth World Cup and, if he wants, a chance to end his national team career on his terms. It's hard to see him sticking around four more years and making a run at 2018, especially with the growing talent the U.S. possesses. But a starting spot in Brazil is in reach, even while he simultaneously plays the role of elder statesman.

"You want to help all the young guys who have never played in a World Cup, you want them to have that feeling where they’re on the field celebrating together because they just qualified for a World Cup. Hopefully, if things go right down the road, you want to get to Brazil a month or so before the World Cup and experience that with those guys," Donovan, wearing a USA shirt and skinny, dark, camouflaged cargo pants, said. "I want to be a part of that."

In Costa Rica, it's becoming increasingly clear that he always has been even when he wasn't.

Do you expect Donovan to start? Do you want him in the XI? Tell us below.

Noah Davis is American Soccer Now's deputy editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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