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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Landon Donovan said he knows exactly why the United States can play with the world’s soccer powers at the World Cup: The team’s best players already do.
“We have a lot of European-based players so there will be no surprises,” Donovan told FIFA.com. “And, after our experience in the Confederations Cup last year, we are confident we can play all the big teams and not only compete with them but get the better of them, too.”
Donovan is one of the country’s poster boys for playing overseas. After playing in seven games for the German Bundesliga’s Bayer Leverkusen from 2001 to 2005, he played six games for the league’s Bayern Munich last year. This spring, when he wasn’t playing for Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy – a squad for which he’s starred since 2005 – he played for Everton of the English Premier League, where scored twice in 10 games.
“His [Donovan’s] work ethic fits in perfectly with the team’s and that of David Moyes, and his never-say-die attitude has added some much needed grit to the side,” Simon Paul, editor of the Everton fans’ website NSNO.co.uk, told FIFA.com. “He has natural ability on the ball and many Evertonians are hoping that his move could become permanent.”
But Donovan isn’t the only player on the U.S. 23-man World Cup roster who has gained valuable experience playing in European leagues, which are considered superior compared to the United States’ Major League Soccer.
In the Bundesliga, midfielder Ricardo Clark plays with Eintracht Frankfurt and defender Steven Cherundolo plays for Hannover 96. Defender Oguchi Onyewu plays for AC Milan in Italy’s Serie A. Midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu compete for the Scottish Premier League’s Rangers. In the English Premier League, goalie Tim Howard plays for Everton, defender Jonathan Spector stars for West Ham United and midfielder Stuart Holden recently signed with Bolton Wanderers. Midfielder Clint Dempsey scored seven goals this season for Fulham, one of the best totals for a player at his position in the EPL.
Meantime, forward Herculez Gomez became the first American to lead a top international league in scoring when he netted this year a league-high 10 goals for Puebla of the Primera División Mexicana.
“You’re always hoping to raise your game, every time you play,” Clark told FIFA.com. “You do your best and hope that a big move to a big club in Europe will come your way. That’s all you can do.” But Donovan learned there’s a big difference between signing with a team and playing for the team, as he’s spent the majority of his career in Europe watching from the sideline.
“It’s not always the best idea for American players to go abroad; it’s really up to the individual player to make sure the move is right for him,” Donovan, who has 42 goals in 122 career international games, told FIFA.com. “If you go abroad, you need to play. You don’t help yourself or the national team by going to Europe and sitting on the bench.”
The United States’ players are seeking to win the nation’s first World Cup, but also pay raises, as a great showing for the red, white and blue on the field could lead to landing a contract worth a lot of green from a European club team.
The numbers don’t lie.
The highest paid American-born player in Major League Soccer, Donovan, makes US$900,000 a year. But Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly makes about US$17 million annually from Spain’s Real Madrid, Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic makes more than US$15 million from Spain’s FC Barcelona and Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o each get paid more than US$13 million a season from Barcelona and Italy’s Inter Milan.
The United States, a 50-to-1 long shot to win its first World Cup, is ranked 14th by FIFA, opens Group C play against eighth-ranked England on June 12 before facing 25th-ranked Slovenia on June 18 and 30th-ranked Algeria on June 23.
“You just got to find a way to make it work,” Dempsey told FIFA.com. “We’re still trying to get sharp and trying to get everyone on the same page. It’s difficult when all these players are coming from different clubs, different positions and to come here and try to make this team the best it could be. I think we will continue to get better.”