Donovan leads U.S. charge into quarterfinals

Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2002

JEONJU, South Korea -- Landon Donovan ripped off his shirt, sprinted along the end line and dropped to his knees, his face filled with joy.

He had given the United States a two-goal lead over Mexico with 25 minutes remaining, and now he was running around, not really sure where he was going.

The 20-year-old midfielder has energized the American team and helped instill confidence in players who now believe the United States can take home the World Cup.

''We want to win it,'' he said. ''You come here with any other idea, you should not be here. That is your goal. It's your dream to win the World Cup.''

Much of the soccer world is shocked by the U.S. team, which advanced to a quarterfinal game against Germany with its 2-0 victory over Mexico on Monday. It is the best showing for the Americans since the first World Cup in 1930, when they lost in the semifinals.

Still, Donovan's not surprised.

For him, reaching the semifinals is an expectation. He did it in the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Championship, where he was the tournament's most valuable player, and at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, generally limited to players under 23.

Donovan scored in the 65th minute on a header from just inside the 6-yard box off a pass from Eddie Lewis, joining teammate Brian McBride as the first Americans to score twice in one World Cup since Bert Patenaude in 1930. Donovan nearly got another goal four minutes into injury time, missing a wide-open net from 8 yards following a cross from Cobi Jones.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena praised Donovan's fitness, his ability to play all but 16 minutes of the Americans' first four games.

Donovan, selected as player of the game, thought about the effect his goal would have back home, remembering how he watched the big World Cup stars when he was young.

''There's probably a lot of kids going nuts about us, and that's great,'' he said.

His international debut was on Oct. 25, 2000, also against Mexico, and he became only the sixth player since 1985 to score a goal in his first game with the national team.

Last year, Arena worked him into the roster, and Donovan -- with his hair dyed blond -- stood out.

Major League Soccer brought him back from Germany, where he never got into a game in two years with Bayer Leverkusen. By playing with the San Jose Earthquakes, Donovan grew up.

Now, European teams are seeking him, wondering if he can be pried from Bayer Leverkusen, which signed him at age 16, when he was at Redlands East Valley High School in California.

The German club, which lost to Real Madrid in the final of the European Champions Cup, still owns his rights, but it is so filled with good players that it probably doesn't have room for him.

''There is no question that he is a great young talent,'' Arena said. ''He is just going to get better. Part of the reason he has emerged as he has is because physically he has grown into a man's body. He is much stronger now and has much more experience, and that combination has made him pretty successful at this level.''

With Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley (20), Clint Mathis (25) and Josh Wolff (25), the U.S. soccer team features a lot of youth.

The U.S. Soccer Federation thinks more players are in the pipeline.

''Like I keep saying,'' USSF president Bob Contiguglia beamed after the game, ''it's just the tip of the iceberg.''



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