By Dylan Butler
SANDY, Utah – Looking to gauge how Landon Donovan is feeling in his return to the United States national team after an 11-month self-imposed sabbatical?
Check out how he takes his penalty kicks.
“As forwards, when we’re pressing or things aren’t going our way, you tend to be more tense in front of goal,” Donovan said. “If you have a cool, calm demeanor it probably means you’re comfortable with where you’re at and right now I feel very good and very confident.”
In his return, Donovan has scored from the spot in back-to-back games, including a 6-1 Group C victory over Belize in the team’s CONCACAF Gold Cup opener in Portland Tuesday night.
The LA Galaxy standout isn’t trying to put any undue pressure on himself, but it is clear the microscope is squarely on him ahead of World Cup qualifiers in September.
“I don’t view it that way,” Donovan said. “I think all the guys here view it as an opportunity to further their national team careers. In an obvious sense it means being part of the qualifiers coming up and in the bigger scheme it means furthering your chances to be a part of the World Cup team.”
No doubt there’s also a direct correlation between Donovan’s return and the U.S. squad’s scoring outburst of late. He has three goals and set up another three goals in a pair of six-goal victories.
When he netted against Belize, Donovan became the first player to score in six different Gold Cup tournaments and he’s also the only player in U.S. history to score at least 50 goals with at least 50 assists.
“I think [Herculez Gomez] said it well the other day, whenever you have a chance to play for your national team it’s an opportunity,” Donovan said. “Jurgen [Klinsmann, the coach] has made it very clear that your performance dictates whether you get called in again or not. I think that’s the way we all approach it.”
Klinsmann has been particularly impressed with Donovan’s return.
“He came back in this group, he’s very comfortable and he picks up the rhythm of the group,” Klinsmann said. “It helps us obviously with his two recent games to get a good rhythm, get confidence for the entire group knowing every game gets more and more difficult.”
Donovan has had particular success historically against Cuba in the Gold Cup. In the 2002 Gold Cup, he scored in a 2-1 win over Cuba in the opening game of group play and a year later, Donovan struck for four goals in a 5-0 victory in the quarterfinals.
That outburst, he said, came after a personal scoring drought.
“I remember the first goal [Brian] McBride got in alone and rolled me one, a tap-in in front of the goal. That sort of opened the floodgates,” Donovan said. “It was a fun day, a day I’ll remember and if we can duplicate that again that would be great.”