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Landon Donovan handles the spotlight like a veteran

The Kansas City Star

Landon Donovan sat by the pool, relaxed and let his mind wander aimlessly Thursday afternoon. The rare free time away from soccer and appearance obligations left Donovan feeling strange.

Donovan, a forward for the San Jose Earthquakes, had this weird sensation that there must have been some appearance he needed to make.

But really, the only thing he needed to think about was tonight's game at Arrowhead Stadium against the Wizards. The last time he came to Kansas City, the Wizards scored an impressive 2-0 victory against the Earthquakes, the defending Major League Soccer champions, who have the best record in MLS this season.

"I haven't scored a goal against the Wizards," Donovan said. "Maybe they just get up for us."

The Wizards have even more reason to get emotionally high for tonight's game. Professional athletes welcome the challenge of facing star players.

"He is a true competitor," Wizards defender Nick Garcia said of Donovan. "I'm definitely looking forward to facing him. As I've said before, I measure myself in how I'm progressing based on the top attackers in the league, and he's definitely in that class."

Since returning from the 2002 World Cup in Korea as one of the most recognizable soccer players in the United States, Donovan has spent the last month playing for the Earthquakes and turning up on national late-night talk shows.

One night he's trading jokes with David Letterman, and the next night he's trying to bring some sanity to the highly irreverent "Best Damn Sports Show Period."

"My life has definitely changed since the World Cup," Donovan said. "I'm a lot more busy. I'm glad it's happening. The attention the national team players are getting is good for soccer in the U.S."

Donovan bolted from obscurity to a household name to sports fans -- even those fans who profess loyalty only to football, baseball and basketball -- by playing a key role in the Americans' unprecedented run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

When Donovan scored or helped set up a goal in the World Cup, he flashed a smile that melted the hearts of teen-age girls across the country. Donovan is 20 years old, has curly brown hair and the type of California profile that makes him a natural to promote soccer.

MLS knows exactly what it has in Donovan, who joined San Jose last year when he was lent to the league by Germany's Bayer Leverkusen.

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