As he prepares to return to the United States national team after a self-imposed sabbatical, Landon Donovan acknowledged that he's not the same player he used to be.
Citing a desire to take a break from soccer, Donovan excused himself from the U.S. squad and started the MLS season late after leading the Los Angeles Galaxy to the MLS Cup in December.
As the Gold Cup begins next week, Donovan will play for the U.S. for the first time in nearly 11 months.
"I'm a lot closer to where I'd like to be," Donovan said in a video released by US Soccer on Thursday. "Part of getting older is that you just don't have as much explosiveness, you're not as dynamic as you were, and that's all part of it and that's part of evolving in general.
"But as far as the soccer part goes, I'm pretty close."
Donovan, 31, has not appeared in a U.S. uniform since an August friendly against Mexico, missing all six games of the Americans' final World Cup qualifying round as he returns to form.
"I'm excited about this opportunity to take it up a level and see how I do and see how I can perform at this level against competition that's going to be difficult, but I'm ready for it and I'm exicited for it and I think it's going to be a great month," Donovan said.
Donovan's on a Gold Cup roster largely devoid of big names, with few having a lock on a full-strength U.S. roster. Though Donovan would seem to be an exception, Jurgen Klinsmann doesn't see it that way.
"I come from a different background and in soccer it's normal to have to work your way back into the mix," said Klismann. "When someone takes time off or has an injury, we evaluate that case from zero. We respect the past accomplishments, but that doesn't help you tomorrow. It doesn't help you today."
The U.S. will warm up for the tournament Friday in a friendly against Guatemala in San Diego, before beginning Gold Cup play Tuesday in Portland, Ore., against Belize.
"We don't have too many guys with a lot of experience at this level, so it's a relatively young group, it's a relatively inexperienced group," Donovan said. "And everybody sort of knows what they're doing but when the games start coming and they start meaning a little more I think that's when some of us older guys can help and calm guys down and let everyone realize that there's a very manageable way to do things and you don't have to be too stressed, too high-strung, and we can enjoy this experience."
Stuart Holden returned to the national team for June's World Cup qualifiers for the first time since Oct. 2010 because of various injuries. The latest was a 2011 knee injury beset with setbacks. He made short reserve appearances during the World Cup qualifiers, but will get a chance to start and prove himself worthy of a second straight World Cup roster spot.
"I think this is a great opportunity to show Jurgen that I can be a 90 minute player and a go-to guy for this team," Holden said. "As a competitor you never want to play a substitute role, but I'll take the minutes I can get. I want to make an impact these next two weeks and work my way into a starting spot as we head toward the World Cup next summer."
While Klinsmann will evaluate the entire roster, some will follow Holden's progress and DaMarcus Beasley's first captaincy, public focus will be on Donovan's progress.
Klinsmann knows how good Donovan can be, and he'll give Donovan a chance to work his way back into the mix. If he can do so starting with this Gold Cup, Donovan could secure a spot in his fourth straight World Cup.
That spot will have to be earned, not given.
"He's back in the picture and he'll get his opportunities," Klinsmann said. "We know what he's done for the game over the last 10-15 years, but soccer is always about today. It's about performance and consistency, and Landon knows that. We're happy to have him back."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.