Donovan Finds the Net
Soccer America Magazine
Landon Donovan, the 19-year-old wunderkind who soared into the consciousness of American soccer fans with superb performances at the U-17 World Cup in 1999 and the Sydney Olympics last year, netted his first MLS goal Saturday afternoon in the San Jose Earthquakes' 2-0 triumph over the MetroStars at Spartan Stadium.
Donovan, making his fourth start since his allocation to San Jose, which followed a deal that enabled him to return home from German club Bayer Leverkusen, had been impressive in his initial games in the league but hadn't found the net. He hit a post against Kansas City and another against the MetroStars, just missing after regaining possession after he was denied by a Tim Howard save.
The goal -- with his mother and stepfather, who traveled north from their Southern California home, watching -- arrived in the 84th minute. Richard Mulrooney lofted a ball over the MetroStars defense, and Donovan took the ball on a thigh while racing alone into the box, then fired past Howard and into the left side of the goal.
''He's going to score there -- he should,'' said Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop, whose squad extended its unbeaten streak to four games and took sole possession of first place in the Western Division with a 4-2-1 record.
Donovan, who received a ball autographed by his teammates in the locker room following the match, expressed relief.
Soccer America talked to Donovan, his coach and teammates after the game about the young striker and what his first goal means.
On scoring his first MLS goal: ''It feels pretty good ... amazing ... incredible. It was a big relief, but it was very exciting, and to do it at the end of the game, to put the game away, meant a lot to me.''
On how close he'd previously come to scoring: ''That happens -- it's part of soccer. It was frustrating, but we were winning games, so I couldn't complain too much. But I'm happy to get it off my back.''
Describing the goal: ''Richard Mulrooney got the ball in the middle, and I was facing him, and I noticed the whole back line was really [pushed up], so I spun out and Richard gave me a perfect ball over the top and I ran onto it. I had all the time in the world, and I couldn't have missed, really, if I'd tried. ... To be honest, I thought it was off[side] when it first happened, and I looked over, and [the linesman] didn't have his flag up, so I kept going.''
Asked if he'd been wondering when the first might arrive: ''We've been playing so well lately. Everyone is playing very well. We've been getting goals from everywhere. That's how you win games -- that's how you win championships. ... I didn't worry about it. If we had won, 1-0, today, I would have been completely content. But to get the goal was great.''
On his acclimation to MLS: ''It's been much easier [than expected]. I mean, I expected it to be easy, but it's been easier [than I thought it would be].''
On the standing ovation Earthquakes fans gave him when he was substituted in the 90th minute: ''They're wonderful. They're so good -- not just to me, but to the whole team. It's surprising that there's anybody there, considering the last four years have been so bad here. They keep coming out, and we're finally doing well, and I think it's going to be good year for them.''
On the MetroStars' man-marking defense: ''[Yallop] told us they might follow us around, so if they did that, get Mike [Petke, marking Ronald Cerritos] on the left side where he's not comfortable and get [Orlando] Perez [marking Donovan] on his right side where he's not comfortable. So a lot of times, we just flopped them over, and it made it difficult for them to play. ... That's the way they play. But you live by the sword, you die by the sword. It works for awhile, but you can't just follow players around all day. It's not the way to defend, you know?''
On the unseasonably warm weather in San Jose: ''I almost died out there.''
On what he'll do with the autographed ball: ''My mom will get ahold of it pretty soon.''
On Donovan's getting his first goal: ''I wasn't too concerned, to be honest. His general play has been very good, and he's been playing well. Obviously, every striker wants to score -- that's their yardstick of how good they are, they think.''
On Donovan's close calls'': ''Hey, if you're winning matches, that's what matters in the end. He's been playing well, but I bet he's got a bit of relief now that he's at least scored now. He can relax and not worry about those things now.''
Asked if the Quakes were playing better than he expected: ''I wouldn't say 'playing' better. I felt maybe the results have gone better than I would expect, with the team gelling and getting to know each other. It's early in the season and we're going to have some setbacks.
''We needed to know we could compete in this league, and I think the guys now are starting to believe it. I always knew the players we put together could become a good team, so I'm happy with everything.''
On the importance of Donovan getting his first goal: ''It takes a lot of pressure off of him -- certainly doing the first of anything, the first point, the first goal, the first assist, whatever it happens to be -- and now he can sort of focus on what he needs to do, sort of get that monkey off his back. We're getting production not just from the forwards and Landon, but from defenders as well [left back Wade Barrett scored the first goal], and I think that speaks well for this team.
''[Donovan's first goal] was going to come, it was just matter of time. He's been dangerous; teams have to keep an eye on him. I think Landon can score a lot of goals this year.''
On his role in Donovan's goal: ''I don't remember, we got it cleared out somehow, and then Ronald [Cerritos] beat his man to it, laid it off to me. I saw their defense was pushed up, and I think I took a touch -- I don't think I hit it first time. I lobbed it over the top, 'cause Landon -- I don't know if other teams know it, but he's got to be one of the fastest guys in the league. Once he controlled it, I knew: That's a goal. His finishing is that good.''
On the importance of the goal: ''It's a big one. We're not putting any pressure on him at all. Look at some of the top scorers in this league, some of them haven't even scored a goal yet. Landon's the type of player, he could have already had a couple goals this year, but now that he had the first one, I think his streak is going to start. The main thing is he's creating for us and he's a problem for the other team. That's all we need. If he scores goals, great, but I think his work ethic, the way he puts himself on the field, he's danger anywhere.''
On Donovan's touch: ''His first touch is one of the best in the league, without a doubt. You're going against Petke and [Steve] Jolley, two of the bigger defenders in the league, banging against you, and his first touch is where he wants it every time. I don't remember him having a bad touch today. And his speed -- he's got the complete package.''
On Donovan's age: ''It is hard to believe. He's so mature and composed on the ball. I don't know about the other great American forwards, like [Eric] Wynalda, when they were 19, but he's either their equal or surpassed them. And the scary thing is he's just going to get better.
''Every league he's played in, he's scored goals, and I don't care where it's been or who it's been against. If he's doing that for us, it's going to make [winning] that much easier.''
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