BALTIMORE -- Incredible as it may sound, the greatest American men's soccer player finds himself in the unusual and unenviable position of auditioning for a spot on the U.S. roster for World Cup qualifying.
Let's face it. No U.S. player has accomplished more for club and country than Landon Donovan.
He has more goals (53) and more assists (52) than any other U.S. player at the international level. Who can forget that scintillating 11th-hour goal in a 1-0 triumph over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup that boosted Team USA into the second round?
Domestically, Donovan has 128 goals, helping his teams to five MLS Cup titles.
Despite his impeccable credentials, the 31-year-old veteran must prove himself again during the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament. His audition has gone quite well, emerging as a key attacker during the first three group-stage wins entering Sunday's quarterfinal against El Salvador.
Proving himself again is fine with Donovan, who took a surprising and controversial four-month leave of absence from soccer this past winter to contemplate his future and recharge his batteries. Donovan has come back stronger, though he missed Team USA's opening six qualifiers in the CONCACAF hexagonal.
"The reality for me now is that every game is an audition," Donovan said earlier this week. "I don't want to get too high with good performances or too low with bad performances. I want to be consistent and be relied upon. When my number's called, I want to be ready . . . I'm happy to be a part of this and I want to keep it going.
"I'm enjoying myself."
Beyond his attacking capabilities, Donovan is just about the whole package. He also brings leadership and an ability to defend as an end-to-end player.
"Landon with his experience is so valuable for us," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "He can guide the front line . . . His leadership in that moment is very important to the team, and he understands that moment. He's a player that understands the importance of certain games. . . . One step at a time, but the things that we asked Landon to do, he did them."
Including setting up the winning goal, shuffling off a counterattack pass to Brek Shea, who scored in the 82nd minute in a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in East Hartford, Conn., on Tuesday.
"The pass was perfect," Klinsmann said. "It was a wonderful ball."
Donovan has scored twice -- both penalty kicks -- and created three other goals during the competition.
The American side isn't the World Cup A team, but more a combination of veterans and newcomers trying to make an impression on Klinsmann to be promoted to the World Cup qualifying roster when that competition resumes in September. Given his performances, Donovan most likely has regained a spot on that team.
Donovan said the team has had "really good camaraderie, it really feels special. It's partially because a lot of guys aren't here a lot. So they really appreciate the opportunity. For a lot of us . . . it's been a while since we've been here and we're relishing the opportunity. We're really coming together well. I'm really, really enjoying this. It's been a lot of fun and I want to keep it going."