Donovan in the spotlight
By Andrew Monfried
Reaching the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup has given many members of the U.S. national team opportunities they could only dream about four years ago.
Commercial endorsements, increased media exposure, and contract leverage in negotiating with European teams are just a few of the perks so far from the historic performance.
And if you are Landon Donovan, the 20-year old star who scored two goals in the tournament, you get your own media junket on talk shows around the country.
"I almost forgot I was a soccer player for awhile, said Donovan. "I had so many media commitments. As hectic as you can imagine it would be, it has been 10 times more. I haven't had much time to rest."
Donovan has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and "Late Night with David Letterman." He was also a guest on "Connie Chung Tonight," "The Today Show," "Live! with Regis & Kelly", and MTV's "Total Request Live." The Earthquakes forward threw out the first pitch at an Oakland A's game, but the most thrilling moment for him was to be amongst the pantheon of American sports stars at the 2002 ESPY Awards.
"I was on stage and looked down and saw (Los Angeles Laker star) Kobe Bryant and he looked up and just shook his head and said nice job," said Donovan, "That was rewarding. I saw Chris Berman backstage and he made some nice comments. To hear it from people like that, who don't need to be up watching soccer, it is very exciting."
Donovan also got an honor, not as prestigious, but certainly something to boost his 20-year-old ego when he was named AOL's Teen Crush of the Month for July. An award like that means Donovan could help the sport cross over into the main stream, and that is a project Donovan is willing to help take on.
"I'm fully welcoming it and able to take that responsibility. I think anyone on that team would want to do the same thing to help soccer. I'm learning that it is very demanding," said Donovan, "You see a Kobe [Bryant] or a Shaq on TV all the time and you think that would be so awesome, but it really is demanding. I'm just a 20-year-old kid who is going crazy right now because I don't know much about how the media works or the talk show circuit. I'm just out there having fun and trying to be myself."
Clearly, the fame coming from the World Cup is something Donovan will have to adjust to, but the most important task is re-focusing his attention on the MLS campaign and leaving the experience in the Far East as a pleasant memory for now.
"For the rest of the year, it might be simple to take it easy and say that the World Cup is over, I can rest a little. But I am looking forward to competing for the championship again and the rest of the team has done a great job in playing while Jeff [Agoos] and I have been away."
The Earthquakes were 7-5-2 when Donovan and Agoos returned from the World Cup, but they team has gone on to win four of their last six games to take the pole position in the Western Conference.
So far, there has been no letdown for Donovan in his return. He has two goals and an assist in those six games including the game-winner against Los Angeles. Even though he is not playing in front of 60,000 people every night, he is still getting a charge out of playing on his home ground in San Jose.
"I kind of feared coming back because when you are at an event that is so huge and so important you could come back and take [MLS] for granted," commented Donovan, "but there is something about this team and playing at Spartan Stadium that I think if we were playing Under-14 team I would be pumped up to play. I look forward to giving my all for this team, and they have made it easy for me to come back from the World Cup."
Clearly, the excitement of the World Cup is still in San Jose, but what about taking that passion to non-MLS cities and spreading the World's game to the rest of the country? Donovan believes the World Cup performance is a stepping for the sport to take off in this country.
"I think we are taking all the right steps right now, especially with the new training center going up. I think that will translate in other cities building stadiums. I think the way the media has been handled post World Cup has been great; we've gotten our face out there. I think that now everyone knows at least something about the World Cup and that is important."
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