USA feeling no pressure ahead of World Cup adventure
CARY, North Carolina, May 16 (Reuters) - The United States were one of the success stories of the 2002 World Cup finals, but Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan feels no pressure to live up to that quarter-final showing this time round.
"I have a much better perspective now," Donovan said on Tuesday following a U.S. training session as the squad prepares for its Group E campaign against the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana.
"I'm more excited just to take advantage of the whole World Cup," he said. "I just don't think about any pressure, this is fun.
"We're playing in the World Cup. Just think how many people never get to enjoy it. You don't want to get done and say 'that wasn't any fun'."
Donovan drew praise as one of the top young players at the 2002 finals where he scored twice. Heading into his second World Cup, he appreciates the measured approach his coach Bruce Arena has adopted.
"Bruce has a real understanding of getting us prepared," said Donovan. "We have stages that we're going through. First, we had to get here (to camp), we're getting fitness now -- then, he can worry about figuring the first 11."
The Americans' opening match on June 12 against the Czech Republic is just weeks away, but Donovan remains relaxed.
"We're just building the team circle, getting on the same page," he said. "It was all new for us the last time and new for him (Arena), so it was trial by error, but now he knows where we're going and what we're doing, he understands that very well."
The squad are a week into training camp and only Leeds United midfielder Eddie Lewis is absent having returned to England to prepare for his club side's match against Watford on Sunday in Cardiff with promotion to the Premier League on the line.
Manchester City midfielder Claudio Reyna thinks the team is fitter than it was in the run-up to the 2002 finals.
"The guys are at a good level now," the U.S. captain said. "We're probably a step ahead of where we were in 2002. Everybody looks sharp. As far as the team goes...everyone has started really working together."
Arena is convinced he has a better squad than that which took eventual runners-up Germany to the brink in the quarter-finals four years ago.
"We're a more experienced team and we have better players," said Arena, happily admitting he too felt no pressure heading into the finals.
"The guys with all the pressure are (Czech coach Karel) Bruckner and (Italy coach Marcello) Lippi," he quipped. "There's no pressure on Mr. Arena."
The team will be in camp until Sunday before heading for Nashville, Tennessee, where they face Morocco in a friendly on May 23. The squad will play warm-up matches against Venezuela on May 26 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Latvia on May 28 in East Hartford, Connecticut, before departing for Germany on June 1.
The U.S. will be based in Hamburg.