Wednesday December 1st, 2010

ZURICH -- Still holding his chopsticks toward the end of a sushi lunch at the Hotel Metropol on Tuesday, Landon Donovan pondered the significance of what it means to be performing for the U.S. in a new way here this week. On Wednesday, Donovan will be part of a four-man team (including former President Bill Clinton and the actor Morgan Freeman) in the U.S.' formal bid presentation in front of the FIFA Executive Committee for the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

It may be a different assignment for Donovan, who has scored five goals in three World Cups, but at 28 he's slipping comfortably into an ambassador's role for American soccer, both inside and outside the U.S.' borders. Donovan may not have the global playing stature of FIFA ExCo members like Franz Beckenbauer or Michel Platini, but for the first time I'm seeing that Donovan could ascend to that kind of political position someday after he's done playing -- if he wants it.

The fact is that Donovan has become a good public speaker, and he has a story to tell here, one that includes attending the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. as a 12-year-old -- Argentina-Romania at the Rose Bowl -- and falling in love with the sport that would become his livelihood. (The U.S. presentation can be seen live on at 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, with the presentations for all the '22 candidates running from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET.)

At the request of U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, Donovan became a member of the bid committee to bring the Cup back to the U.S., and he hopes that other kids can have the same experience he did.

"When Sunil approached me and asked if I wanted to be a part of it, I felt it was an honor, but I didn't really have any idea what was involved," Donovan said. "But over the last year it's been interesting to see what goes into all this and how much preparation is involved. More than anything I've realized that it's a massive decision that will affect a lot of people."

"I want to tell my story. My story can be replicated if we get the World Cup in 12 years. I want to give that opportunity to another kid who will be in my position like I was in '94, and I take that very seriously."

It's important enough that Donovan has traversed 14 time zones to be here, starting the week in Australia (where the Los Angeles Galaxy played an exhibition game), then touching down briefly in L.A. before flying to Zürich on Sunday night.

Donovan's speaking role puts him in good company: His L.A. teammate David Beckham is here presenting to FIFA on behalf of England's World Cup '18 bid. In fact, it's a little eerie how many things Donovan and Beckham share in common these days. Both are in Zürich. Both arrived from Australia, where they played with the Galaxy. Both have even been linked to loan deals with Everton of late (though it's looking like neither will end up going).

Donovan may have had issues with Beckham during the latter's first two years in Los Angeles but they got past those problems in 2009 and appear to have developed a solid working relationship.

"I say this all the time: I don't believe in coincidence," Donovan said. "It makes me realize that as sort of frustrated and angry as I was a few years ago with everything, it was all happening for a reason. And David and I are a lot more similar than we are dissimilar. So it doesn't surprise me that we would be here together."

Donovan says he's hoping that England and the U.S. win the big prizes here, an AngloSweep prospect that I didn't think was possible a week ago but whose chances appear to be growing. Gulati even joked on Tuesday that he has a side deal with Donovan that would force the U.S. coach in '22 to include the 40-year-old Donovan on the U.S.' World Cup roster if he succeeds in helping to land the hosting assignment for the Americans.

As we finished up lunch on Tuesday I asked Donovan: In a perfect world, how would this World Cup bid process end for him on Thursday night?

"In a perfect world, I'd be reflective on my life and career, because I think it would mean that it's kind of come full circle for me in a way," he replied. "I would be celebratory. Certainly I'd be drinking Champagne. And for the first time in a long time I'll be around soccer people but not having the pressure of playing or performing and just enjoying it, which would be nice."

One of the visuals for the U.S.' bid presentation on Wednesday shows a young Donovan, circa 2000, rocking the semi-ridiculous bleach-blond dyed hair that was popular with kids back in those days. Watching him here, it's impossible not to realize: He's come a long way since then.

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