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Landon Donovan: Current USMNT pool is 'most talented group' of U.S. players

Tim Howard says a lack of passion from some players on the U.S. national team directly impacted their WCQ campaign.

U.S. great Landon Donovan believes that the current version of the national team is the most talented of all time.

Donovan was part of the American squad that reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, where it narrowly lost to eventual runner-up Germany.

It was the best finish for the U.S. since it returned to the World Cup stage in 1990 following a 40-year absence, and that Bruce Arena-coached side is widely regarded as the best in the modern era of American soccer.

But according to Donovan, the current player pool -- which includes players such as 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund standout Christian Pulisic and fellow Champions League participant Fabian Johnson of Borussia Monchengladbach -- is better and deeper than ever before.

"From a pure talent standpoint, there's no question that this is the most talented group of players we've ever had. It's a stupid debate to have," Donovan said in an interview with ESPN FC.

"Do we have that same desperation that the 2002 team had or the '94 team had? Not always."

Donovan's comments came before Tim Howard's last week, when the veteran U.S. keeper questioned the passion of some of his teammates.

Donovan's second-half header helped seal the U.S.'s memorable 2-0 victory over Mexico at the 2002 World Cup.
Landon Donovan and the U.S. found success at the 2002 World Cup, reaching the quarterfinals.

"If you tell me that the team you saw in Costa Rica, or in the Rose Bowl against Mexico, that if you saw a united, committed group, then I'll call your bluff," Howard said, referencing an October 2015 loss to El Tri that cost the U.S. a spot in this year's Confederations Cup, and November's 4-0 World Cup qualifying debacle against the Ticos.

Those games were a far cry from the way past U.S. teams have found success on the world stage, for which Donovan said earlier squads had to fight every day.

"The '94 group had to fight for everything they got," Donovan said of the side that reached the second round when the U.S. hosted the tournament. "Literally every dollar that they earned, every inch they got on the field, every victory. From that group was born this group of guys, which translated onto the next group, which was our 2002 team.

"Every time we came into camp, training was an absolute war. They were the most competitive training sessions I had in my career, that '01-02 group."

If the current U.S. squad can pull together under Arena, who was rehired when Jurgen Klinsmann was let go following the Costa Rica loss, Donovan thinks the results can improve significantly.

"If we get that sort of fight and hunger back, that talent will shine through, and if we get it right on the day, we can genuinely compete against any team in the world," he said. "That's going to be Bruce's challenge."

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.

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