The LA Galaxy's Landon Donovan said the U.S. National Team won't make the same mistakes as it prepares for next month's World Cup in South Africa. Call it a lesson learned.
It was four years ago that the Americans arrived in Germany ranked in the top 10 in the world and were viewed as an outside title contender, but they failed to get out of their group and went home a bitter disappointment. This time, however, Donovan vows things will be different.
He isn't predicting a victory over England in their first game, but he did say the U.S. is taking a much more level-headed approach to the competition.
"We probably got a little carried away with expectations and what we thought we were in 2006," he said Thursday. "FIFA rankings had us fifth, sixth and fourth at certain points, and we were a little naive in starting to believe those things. I know I felt that way.
"Now I'm realistic and I understand where we are and what the expectations should be. It makes it more clear for us."
Donovan said he and his teammates will benefit from last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa, in which they lost to Brazil in the final -- "It comes from being comfortable in your surroundings," he said -- and they have only one goal in mind: to get out of their group which also includes England, Slovenia and Algeria.
"For us, it's very simple," he said. "I put a handful of countries in a group where their expectations are a lot higher. For most teams in the World Cup the expectations are to get out of your group. When you do that, you're playing well, things are going well and you go from there."
Donovan and teammate Edson Buddle will leave Sunday morning for a pre-World Cup training camp at Princeton University and play friendlies against the Czech Republic on May 25 in Hartford, Conn., and Turkey in Philadelphia on May 29.
The inclusion of Buddle on the preliminary roster, Donovan said, was thanks for a job well-done.
"The strides that have been made are in his consistency," Donovan said of Buddle, who turns 29 next week. "Edson has the ability, he has the talent. I think mentally he's focused himself every day, and that's the difference.
"When you do that you get rewarded, and that's good to see."
The 28-year-old Donovan heads to Princeton off arguably his best season as a professional in 2009, and 2010 hasn't been too shabby, either, with one goal and a league-high nine assists in eight games.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said Donovan is more mature mentally and physically than he was four years ago, and he's also benefited from a successful 10-week stay with Everton of the English Premier League earlier this year.
"The Everton thing gave him confidence," Arena said. "It didn't change him one bit as a player, really. Unless I'm real stupid I don't think 10 weeks changes the previous 10 years. His confidence was boosted, that he could play at a higher level."
"To be able to play at that level for one or two games was one thing," he said. Donovan played in 10 league games with Everton, scored two goals and had three assists. "To be able to do it consistently was another, and that was the goal I set for myself.
"I knew I had the ability to play a few games and do well. I wanted to see if I could do that every day and be a player, and I proved that to myself. That gives me a lot of confidence, not only for the World Cup but the rest of my career."