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Apr 15, 2014

Landon Donovan recognizes limitations

FC's Taylor Twellman looks at how being on the bubble for a FIFA World Cup roster spot affects players.

CARSON, Calif. -- Landon Donovan insists that the transition to playing under U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann hasn't been difficult -- but getting older has.

Landon Donovan says he's coming to grips with the limitations his age puts on his game.

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Speaking at a promotion for Samsung, the 32-year-old Donovan elaborated on the reasons he didn’t start for the U.S. two weeks ago in a friendly against Mexico.

Donovan played in the second half of a 2-2 draw, and Klinsmann said after the match that the midfielder was suffering from tendinitis in his knee and hadn't trained well.

Donovan has since looked sharp during matches for the L.A. Galaxy, leading to questions about just how injured he was. But the U.S. team's all-time leading scorer confirmed Klinsmann's assessment. Donovan also indicated that the condition is one that, with the help of L.A. Galaxy manager Bruce Arena, he has dealt with more than once over the years.

"Bruce knows me a little better so I think he would've trusted me and put me in the game, but I think Jurgen was a little unsure," Donovan said. "That was fine. The knee has gotten better, so I'm feeling good."

The Mexico game was just the latest instance where Klinsmann opted to look elsewhere when Donovan appeared short of his best, something that was unheard of earlier in the player's career.

The U.S. manager made Donovan earn his way back into the national side after his four month sabbatical last year. Last October, Donovan was pulled at halftime following a subpar display against Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier.

Yet there was no trace of frustration in Donovan's voice as he discussed the fact that he's no longer an automatic starter. Instead, he acknowledged that time -- as it does with all players -- is beginning to erode his still formidable skills.

"I think it's more this point in my career -- and it started briefly with Bob [Bradley] in the Gold Cup a few years ago -- where you may not be penned in as a starter or as part of the team every time," said Donovan. "That as an athlete is a hard realization to swallow, because we all think we're invincible, we all think we're great, we all have an ego at times. Dealing with that process has been ... not challenging but interesting, and it's just coming to grips with it. I've sort of had to realize that.

"I think Jurgen's motto -- and I think to his credit it has worked and been good -- is that you have to be good all the time, and you have to prove it every day. That's hard for older players."

That has meant that Donovan has had to pay more attention to managing his body. Where in previous years he used to be able to go all out on training every day, he now realizes that he can put forth that kind of effort only once or twice a week. Otherwise, he'll have nothing left for the match at the weekend.

That raises the question of just how much Donovan will be able to give at the World Cup, given the U.S. team's demanding schedule. Not only will the Americans be playing three games in 11 days, but they'll have to navigate considerable travel distances between the team's training base in Sao Paolo and games in Natal, Manaus, and Recife. But Donovan remains confident that his experience will allow him to handle such a grind.

"When I'm [with the national team], I still feel like I'm one of the best players, and that I can still contribute in a big way," he said. "I can't do it every day in training. That's why leading up to the Mexico game, when I don't train well for a couple of days, alarm bells probably go off in Jurgen's head. But I know myself, and I know when game day comes, I know how to perform."

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