"When we're together, we're all one"
U.S. U-17 star Landon Donovan scores nearly a goal a game for the Yanks, but he's finding he has plenty to learn since signing with Bayer Leverkusen
SOCCER AMERICA: You've spent about three months in Germany. How has it been?
LANDON DONOVAN: It's been good. It's been rough because I haven't been playing too much with the reserves. I don't know why - it's kind of like you have to work in, you know. You're not going to come in and start.
SA: I hear you've been playing in different positions, in midfield, and with more defensive responsibility.
LD: Sometimes. And I'm just a young kid, so if there are two midfielders and it's between [the other one] going forward and me defending, or me going forward and them defending, they want to go forward. They're not going to let some 17-year-old come in and do whatever he wants. I'm stuck with that. It's part of learning, I guess.
SA: You're playing in the Third Division with Bayer's reserve team. How's the level?
LD: Compared to the [U-17] national team in skill and technical ability, the national team is probably better. But the passion and the fighting of the game are just out of control. It's more about who can work harder. I think it would be easier in the second or first league: There's more soccer there.
SA: You returned from Germany a far more demanding player. How did your teammates accept it?
LD: I think a couple of them took it personally. Coach [John Ellinger] had a talk with the team, told them I'd been in [that kind of atmosphere] for awhile, and you can't just turn the switch off. I needed to tone it down a little; it was getting out of control.
The guys [in Germany] are very demanding of me. If I do any little thing wrong, they jump all over me. It's not a bad thing - they're there to help me. Every game means so much - it means the world. I'm not saying it didn't feel like that before, but now it's very serious.
I want to get my [U-17] teammates ready, and that's what it's like there.
SA: You and your U-17 teammates have developed very deep, nurturing friendships. In Germany, your teammates are competitors.
LD: I expected that, but not to the point they're at. They're 25-year-old men, and they need money. To them, that's what it's about.
They're not going to go any higher; they've developed all they're going to develop. It's you or them to start next weekend, and they're going to do whatever it takes to start.
SA: What do you like best about the U.S. team?
LD: Just the different personalities. Everyone's from different places, with different backgrounds, but when we're together, we're all one.
SA: You're going to be one of the most-watched players in New Zealand. What would you like to accomplish personally?
LD: There's not too much personally that I need to accomplish. I'm playing in Germany, have a contract there, I'm doing fine. I'd much rather not score a goal and win the trophy than score 10 and not advance from our group.
Our team definitely doesn't get enough recognition. There's so many players, and we wouldn't have won all those games without the others. Once we hold the trophy up, [others will] recognize it.
by Soccer America senior editor Scott French
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