Nick Rimando witnessed the dazzling performances firsthand.
As the starting goalkeeper for the United States during the team’s Gold Cup run, Rimando watched Landon Donovan dissect defenses with ease throughout the July tournament. By the time the U.S. hoisted the cup, Donovan had scored five goals and tallied seven assists, earning the Golden Ball award as the top player in the competition.
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And Donovan doesn’t appear content to stop there. The Galaxy attacker, whom Real Salt Lake will have to deal with when the team travels to Los Angeles this weekend, put together a hat trick last week against FC Dallas, bringing his MLS total up to six goals since returning from a hiatus.
"He’s always been Landon, you know?" Rimando said. "I think that time away really gave him back his legs and his mentality, and he really found his passion back for soccer. He was in a zone [during Gold Cup], and it’s continued. It was good to see it on the American side, but bad to see it when we have to face him."
RSL coach Jason Kreis said his team won’t game plan specifically around Donovan. But the attacker, who now has 130 career MLS goals, just four back of former Salt Lake striker Jeff Cunningham for the most in league history, will certainly be in the forefront of the defense’s mind.
"He’s just somebody you’ve got to be aware of at all times, depending on where he’s playing in their tactical setup," Kreis said. "He’s been playing more as a second forward than as a wide midfielder. That makes him, I think, a little bit easier for us to pick up actually and know where he is at all times because he’ll tend to stay in more central positions."
Donovan’s play lately has softened U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s position on the attacker. After declining to call Donovan up for the last round of World Cup qualifiers, Klinsmann has indicated the Galaxy player will likely be in the mix going forward.
With the World Cup just a year away, Rimando, himself trying to win a spot on the U.S. roster, knows the motivating power of the tournament.
"Everybody wants to have a chance to go to the World Cup and I think he’s proven for a long time why he’s one of the best players, if not the best player, in U.S. soccer history," the RSL goalkeeper said. "To come back and be sharp and fit and scoring goals, yeah, I think his chances are very good."
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