Posted: Friday February 18, 2005 3:38PM; Updated: Friday February 18, 2005 6:15PM
Between a second stint with Bayer Leverkusen and trying to get the U.S. to the '06 World Cup, Landon Donovan is busy.
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Next Tuesday's resumption of Champions League play could have an extra kick for U.S. soccer fans: Both Landon Donovan (Germany's Bayer Leverkusen) and DaMarcus Beasley (Holland's PSV Eindhoven) may get time on the field as the race for the European Cup gets serious in the Round of 16. Leverkusen travels to Liverpool for Tuesday's clash (2:45 p.m. ET), while PSV will host AS Monaco at the same time.
Earlier this week I caught up with Donovan, who was fresh off his first start for sixth-place Leverkusen, a 2-0 win over Mainz last Sunday (four days after Donovan played 90 minutes in the U.S. national team's 2-0 World Cup qualifying win at Trinidad & Tobago). A month into his new Deutschland adventure, Donovan is settling in and competing for playing time with Leverkusen attacker Robson Ponte (who was suspended for Sunday's game). With six games over the next three weeks -- including Saturday's Bundesliga match at Nürnberg -- Donovan figures to see plenty of action.
Q: How are you feeling about things after your first start there?
Donovan: I thought it was very good. The game was really fast, and it was against a team that had lost six games in a row. But they're actually a pretty decent team. I didn't want to try and do anything out of my realm of capabilities. I tried to keep it simple, but I played pretty well and we won. That's always good. I hope to play again this weekend, but that's obviously out of my control.
Q: How tough was it on your body to do the trans-Atlantic trip and come back to start so soon?
Donovan: The game in Trinidad was difficult. Coming back I adjusted pretty well, thankfully. I've learned from flying a lot overseas how you have to do things in order to get your sleep. The two nights before the game I slept very well. That's the most important thing. If you're up all night, you're just a wreck. All the way through the first half and about 20 minutes into the second half I felt great. Then it kind of hit me a little bit, almost exactly when [Leverkusen coach Klaus Augenthaler] took me out.
Q: How comfortable are you with the way you've worked yourself into the Leverkusen team so far?
Donovan: I felt comfortable pretty early, but I wasn't to that point where I really felt like I could take control and do things. I'm still not totally to that point, but it's better and better all the time. And in the game I felt like they were excited to have me there. They're excited to play with me and I have their respect, which is good.
Q: How have things fit your expectations so far?
Donovan: The level of play is incredible. It's very good and very fast. I knew there were always eight to 10 good players on a team, but here one through 24 are very good soccer players. There are guys on the bench who could easily play on other Bundesliga teams. Leverkusen is good about bringing in soccer players, not players who just battle and stay alive in the league. They bring in guys who can play and entertain. It's perfect for me, and it makes it a lot more fun.
Q: What kind of adjustments are you having to make to your game?
Donovan: It's funny, because the game is a lot faster here, but they expect you to think a lot more about decisions you make. People are flying around and it's wet, so people slide by you. And if you make good decisions, if you use the ball well, you can make the game a lot easier. It's kind of hard to explain, but it's a totally different style.
Q: You spent three seasons with Leverkusen from 1999 to 2001, but didn't make it off the reserve squad. How does this experience compare?
Donovan: It's night and day. I mean, it's still Germany. But it's not as bad as I had always thought.
Q: Have you been told anything about your possible role in next Tuesday's Champions League match against Liverpool?
Donovan: No, I haven't even been told anything about this weekend's game. In America it was always, no matter what the reason, unless someone was coming back from a national team game and they had missed a game, if you played and the team played well and you won, you'd play again. But I don't know. It could be different here. It's a different culture and a different league, and I have to accept whatever decision is made. But I hope I play this weekend and win, and then I might get a chance on Tuesday too.