Olympic Soccer: Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan is one of the youngest players in U.S. soccer history to sign a professional contract overseas. The 18-year-old forward plays for German club Bayer Leverkusen, a powerhouse in the Bundesliga.
Donovan helped the U.S. team qualify for the Olympics in April and will be on the team in Sydney. His most notable international achievement came with the Under-17 team in the 1999 World Youth Championship, in which he was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament's most valuable player.
Missed the live chat? Read the transcript below:
Comment from USATODAY.com Host: Thanks for joining us today. Landon Donovan has been delayed slightly but expects to join us at 12:30 p.m. ET. Please check back with us and keep submitting your questions.
Comment from Landon Donovan: Hi! Thanks for writing in.
Eddie Los Angeles, CA: What do you expect from the Olympics?
Landon Donovan: I know it's going to be, above the soccer part, just an awesome experience of human beings. I'm expecting only the best because it's the greatest sporting event on the earth. I'm expecting to enjoy myself, and hopefully the team will succeed and come back with some satisfaction and saying we had a great time.
Brandon, Mississippi: What has been the most challenging aspect of your association with Bayer Leverkusen?
Landon Donovan: I'd have to say the soccer is obviously a challenge for me, but the most difficult part is off the field, adapting to the culture and the off-the-field life.
euless texas: what club did you play for growing up and did you play odp?
Landon Donovan: I played for Cal Heat, which is located Alta Loma, Calif., and I started playing ODP when I was 15. My club coach said I should go try out, and I started from there.
Boulder, CO: Certainly one of the qualities that separates France or Holland, world-class sides, from the United States, a good side, is the quality and calibre of finishing. What have you learned about finishing during your stay at Leverkusen and when, beyond this year's Olympics, do you hope to get your chance to showcase your excellent finishing skills for the United States on the world stage?
Landon Donovan: One of the main things I've learned is that everywhere in Europe, finishing is a much bigger deal than it is here. They do it almost every practice. They take it just as seriously as every other skill, which they should, because it helps win games. It's just as important as everything else.
San Diego, CA: What is level of soccer like playing in the bigtime in Germany? What do you think about how the top teenage kids go to the pro clubs to get them ready for the bigtime? Do you find it hard to be an American and the Europeans always on you about how Americans cannot play soccer?
Landon Donovan: I think any young American or any young foreigner is going to learn a ton in Germany. Obviously, they have results, and they're first-class in producing players.
It depends on the person, obviously, but there's a lot of people that look at you like, "that can't be an American that scored that goal." But for the most part, people have been really nice to me. Hopefully they're accepting me.
Stewartsville, NJ: What are your professional prospects? Do you think you will stay at Leverkusen or will you move to a club where you can play regularly with the first team? It seems that young Americans would do better in a country like Holland where teams don't pack their benches with multiple foreign signings.
Landon Donovan: Obviously, I'd prefer to be playing. Wherever it can be, I just want to play. Growing up, I played because I want to play; I don't just want to sit on a bench and make money. I always am continuously evaluating what's going on and seeing what my chances are. I'll probably re-evaluate by the Christmas break, and if I'm not playing, then hopefully I'll go somewhere where I can play.
trujillo alto ,puerto rico: do you get nervous when girls go all over you?
Landon Donovan: I don't have too many girls getting over me. I find it flattering when fans are enthusiastic or they appreciate what soccer players do. I enjoy interacting with fans, and I think that's a big part of what soccer is about.
I've been dating Britney Spears for five years. ;)
Urbana, IL: Who is your favorite athlete?
Landon Donovan: I would probably say either Magic Johnson or Wayne Gretzky.
Kansas City, MO: When did you start concentrating on soccer and when did you give up playing other sports in order to pursue soccer?
Landon Donovan: Almost always, I played only soccer. I enjoy playing other sports, and I played all the time just for fun. Soccer was the only one that ever really took seriously. The other sports were just there, but I didn't play competitively.
Chicago, Illinois: What distinguished you from the million other little kids who were playing club soccer and who dreamed of playing on the U.S. team someday? Was it an athletic gift, like agility or foot-eye coordination? More practice than anybody else? It's easy for me, the casual fan, to see what makes for a great football or basketball player--a combination of size and speed. With soccer, it's different, and I'm not sure what separates the stars from the also-rans.
Landon Donovan: I'd have to say, first of all, that I'm just extremely lucky that I was born with a gift. That's nothing that I did, it's just the way I was born. And I think it's very rare that someone finds that gift at such an early age that can work at it and work at it and get good.
There's so many players that I played against at club level that maybe had more talent than me or had more skill, but I was lucky enough to get a chance and lucky enough to make the most of it.
Pismo Beach, CA: Do you think that the 'soccer education' you received in southern California compares favorably with what your team mates experienced in Germany? What is the biggest difference that you see between your experiences and what the German players gain as youth players?
Landon Donovan: I think the German players as youth players learn more of the professional aspect of the game. They play like the pros do at very young ages, so it's just embedded in them and carries along with them throughout their childhoods. Here, I was taught everything with the ball and working constantly with the ball, which I think is most important for a young player because you can learn the tactical side of the game later. You have to have the skill first and learn everything you can with the ball first.
Maybe that's why Germans lack creativity in their game. Tactically, they're very good soccer players, but there's not a lot of flair or creativity in their game.
New York, NY: Landon: How often do you see Frankie Hedjuk? Does he provide some semblance of home?
Landon Donovan: Frankie is the epitome of home. I see Frankie almost every day. Frankie's a wonderful guy, and he's just very relaxed. He helps me relax and enjoy what I'm doing.
York, PA: Hey, Landon. Good luck down in Sydney. There is always alot of talk about players' having to choose between club & country. What kind of pressures do clubs put on players when national duties call ?
Landon Donovan: I've been lucky not to experience much of that, mainly because Bayer have been absolutely wonderful with that. They've never made me go only five days before event, and they've always let me go home and rest. They've always been very accommodating of my needs. So luckily, I haven't had to deal with that, but I know it's an issue for a lot of players, and it's a decision you have to make. I'm sure I'll have to sooner or later.
Champaign, IL: What are some of your long-term goals, pun intended, as a proffessional soccer player?
Landon Donovan: I want to play in a World Cup, first of all. That's always been my goal -- winning a World Cup, obviously. I think, most importantly, I just want to enjoy soccer. I don't want to become just a job; I want to enjoy it for what it is, just a game.
Brooklyn, NY: How does the Bundesliga differ from the other Premier European leagues?
Landon Donovan: I would say the German mentality and the German way of life is very disciplined. Like I said earlier, not a lot of creativity, not a lot of flair from the German players, but it's a battle-for-every-inch kind of league. It's not necessarily the most fun to watch, but they're very disciplined, and they're not going to give up a lot of easy goals. They're very disciplined and they're very hard-working.
Philadelphia Pa: Any news on how Clive will be using you in Sydney?
Landon Donovan: I haven't talked to Clive, but I would imagine it's similar to Hershey. I know Clive knows if he needs me, he'll put his trust and his faith in me, and hopefully I can do the job. It's a big stage for any player, and I know I'm not as experienced as some of the other players there, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.
Reno, Nevada: What do you think about the U.S. team's draw?
Landon Donovan: It's a little tough to say. Czech Republic without a doubt will be, I think, our toughest game. Cameroon -- you never ever know what to expect. You could win 6-0 or get beat 6-0. I would imagine Kuwait isn't as strong, but it's a world championship, and as we experienced in New Zealand, any team can beat any other team on a given day, and you've got to bring it to the table or you're not going to get results.
I think, overall, it's a good draw for us. It's challenging, but I think we can get to the second round if we play well.
Washington, DC: Do you feel like you have something extra to prove as an American? Or do the coaches just look at you as another player like anybody else?
Landon Donovan: Any foreigner coming into Europe has somewhat of a handicap going in because if you have a German coach, and he sees you and a German player with exactly the same skill, he's inclined to play the German player just because of his pride. So you're at a little bit of a disadvantage always; you've got to be better than what they have.
Kansas City, MO: What players do you think will form the core of the U.S. National team in the next 5 years.
Landon Donovan: I think Claudio will be around, Chris Armas I would imagine. I think Steve Cherundolo is going to be a fixture for quite some time. John O'Brien will be in the picture. Some of the players are getting older and it's hard to say, but I think those players that I mentioned, I would imagine, would be.
Long Valley, New Jersey: What is the single most important advise that you can give to our youth who want to pursue a career in professional soccer?
Landon Donovan: Like I said earlier, I think the most important thing you can develop now is ball skill -- always, always working with the ball. I think a lot of times, there's too much emphasis on winning. It kills me even in Germany when I see a team playing an Under-16 game and they're just packing 11 players behind the ball and just kicking it away and playing for a tie. At 16 years old, you should be trying things and experimenting, and if you lose a game, so what?
Nashville, Tn: First, Congratulations LD on all your acomplishments. Q: With the influx of Americans in Europe, has the perception of Americans re: soccer changing?
Landon Donovan: Yeah, I would say. I think 10 years ago people would have laughed at me coming over, and I wouldn't have gotten nearly the respect that I get. I think Claudio has changed things, and a lot of people are coming over -- Joe-Max is doing well, Eddie Lewis. People are realizing that we're becoming a soccer country and people are starting to get scared.
We're only getting better. I go home and watch youth games now, and kids that are 13 and 14 now are tons better than I was then.
Buffalo, NY: Have you spoken to Bruce Arena about when you might be called up to the National Team?
Landon Donovan: I have not spoken with Bruce. If he feels he needs me, he'll call. Just gotta wait it out, I guess.
birmingham england: have you thought of playing in the english premiership?
Landon Donovan: Definitely. I think it'd be wonderful.
Lincoln, NE: Is soccer in Germany so professional that you don't consider your teammates friends?
Landon Donovan: There's kind of a going thing that you have no friends in soccer, only acquaintances. But I wouldn't say that. There's a lot of friends on the team and a lot of people that are very close. I think it's a little harder for me being so far away; I'm not going to get attached to anyone or get a girlfriend because I never know when I'm going to be leaving. But they're all friendly and they all respect each other, which is important.
Arturo Nashville, Tn: Do you see yourself playing attacking mid or forward at Bayer?
Landon Donovan: Either / or. I think I'm probably a better forward just because I have more experience, but I like both positions. Wherever I'm needed.
Mike from Brooklyn, NY: What does the future hold for US Soccer? When can we seriously compete with the top countries of the world?
Landon Donovan: I think we can compete now, and we're showing that. Obviously our next big test will be 2002, and we'll see where we stand. But I don't feel like other players my age are better than our national team were.
Long Valley, New Jersey: Who do you think was/is the greatest soccer player of all time?
Landon Donovan: Tactically, I'd say Pele was. But technically with the ball, Diego Maradona -- there was no one close to Maradona.
Dave Milford, CT: Who would you say is the best player that you have played against so far in your career?
Landon Donovan: At Bayer, there's a number of top-class players that I play against in practice -- Ulf Kirsten for one. There's German internationals, and Ze Roberto is an awesome player. Kind of hard to say.
I played against Denilson in Brazil, and he was incredible.
Chesapeake Beach, Maryland: My 14-year-old daughter lives and breathes soccer! As a parent, I'm interested in knowling at what point you were aware you had what it takes to make it to the "big time?"
Landon Donovan: When I was 14, I was obviously just playing for fun, and I think if she's that serious and she loves it that much, then you need to do what it takes to get her in the best possible environment to get to compete. I don't know if there was a point for me; I just tried out for ODP, and I made it, and I played, and I wound up on the national team. I don't know if there's a point where you can say, "OK, now she's good enough." If she loves it that much, that you should do whatever you can do help her succeed. My parents certainly did that for me.
Nebraska: Who do you think the starting 11 should be? Who do you want to meet in the Olympic Village? Do you hope other club teams approach you after the Olympics for a loan or transfer?
Landon Donovan: Obviously, I want to be in the starting lineup. I don't there's any lineup that's set now. There's a few players that I would imagine are pretty sure, but I think, especially with the team we have, there's a lot of different options that Clive has. And he's not afraid to use any of them.
Michael Johnson would be awesome to meet -- Marion Jones. I'd be in awe of anybody there.
I'm always interested and always hoping to learn of new possibilities. I'd be open to anything.
Arroyo Grande, CA: How is your development as a player coming? Do you feel that working in a country in which you cannot fully communicate with your coaches has been a detriment to your development versus what deMarcus Beasley did? (Go to MLS)
Landon Donovan: I don't think the language is a problem at all. Soccer is universal, just like business. And I think I've learned and developed considerably since I've been in Germany, considerably more than I would have playing in high school.
Pandrup, Denmark: Landon, don't you think you made a good choice going pro in Europe versus playing College soccer? I am American playing here in Denmark and I see the biggest problem in US is we lose our good athletes to other sports after 12 years of age kids go into Jr. High and play the other big sports and soccer suffers! So don't you think we need to get younger players in the clubs in Europe to get the level of the National team better?
Landon Donovan: Obviously, going to Europe younger is wonderful. It's better than anything we can do so far. But I also think it's a personal decision because it's not right for everybody. Soccer's very important to me, but if it's going to affect your life in other aspects, then it's not worth doing. The league (MLS) is doing well now, and there are a lot of players from the league playing in the national team. It's just a personal decision.
Hamilton, VA: What position and with what results have you been playing for the reserve team this year (personal and team results)
Landon Donovan: The first league game we played an away game and we won 4-0. I played up front, and I assisted on two of the goals.
Our second game we played in the German Cup, a big game, against St. Pauli, which are leading the second division right now (we're a fourth division team). We lost 2-1 to them. I actually played right halfback, believe it or not. We brought some players down from the pro team, and they asked me if I'd play right half.
Omaha, NE: How much money are you making now? How much do you save?
Landon Donovan: I save almost everything I make. I don't go out and buy a new car -- I'm not that type of person. I have stocks, and my agent takes good care of my money to make sure that hopefully I can retire early someday.
Monticello, Illinois: Hobbies you enjoy?
Landon Donovan: I love golfing. I play PlayStation quite a bit. I like to write once in a while. I enjoy talking to interesting people, so to speak.
Staten Island, NY: I watched the U-17 championship last year and was amazed at how good the U.S. team was. Realistically do you think we'll win the world cup in the next 20 years?
Landon Donovan: It's very realistic. I'm not one to foreshadow anything, but I know in the U-17s in New Zealand that we could've beaten any team there without a doubt. That's not the old U.S. where if we won one game it was a miracle; we expect to win games. When we go to Sydney, we expect to win every game. We're not going to say, "Oh, we lost 2-1, that's good, though."
chicago, il: Landon, You were quoted recently that you think that you will get little first-team action. Oviously this frustrates you (as it should, since Paulo Rink is terrible). Is there any possibility that you could be loaned to a club in the Bundesliga that will play you consistently? Or do you think that you might get PT in the Champion's League? Best of luck in Sydney, and I hope you saw Damarcus' (who should be with you in the Olympics) beautiful chip against Dallas.
Landon Donovan: I would highly doubt that I'd play in the Champions League this year. I'd be as shocked as anyone if I did. The possibility of getting loaned is always there in professional soccer. I don't know how realistic it is; but if I'm not playing, that's one of the options.
And yes, DaMarcus is quite the amazing kid.
Marlton New Jersey: What would you say the goal of this Olympics is for US soccer?
Landon Donovan: U.S. soccer, I'm sure, would be somewhat satisfied if we advanced out of the group because no Olympic team ever has. I would say the players' mentality is that we're better than that. If you advance out of the group, anything can happen. In New Zealand, we faced Mexico in the quarterfinals, and we knew we were a better team. We beat them and made the semifinals. So anything's possible.
Comment from Landon Donovan: Thank you very, very much. Without fan interest and support, soccer is boring. Thank you very much, and wish us luck in Sydney.
Comment from USATODAY.com Host: Thanks to Landon Donovan for joining us today, and thanks to everyone for all your great questions. We'll have more chats with Olympic athletes over the next two weeks; watch talk.usatoday.com for details.
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