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For Landon Donovan, the Galaxy isn't bigger than the World

Donovan and World Cup teammate Edson Buddle return to Major League Soccer and help L.A. beat Seattle barely a week after Team USA's elimination in the round of 16 in South Africa. The atmosphere is much more low-key, but it's all part of the job for a soccer professional.

July 04, 2010|Helene Elliott

There was not a vuvuzela within earshot Sunday at the Home Depot Center, and the buzzing horns that have become the unpleasant soundtrack of the World Cup were not missed during the Galaxy's game against the Seattle Sounders.

"It's not an attractive sound at all. I don't know why they like hearing it so much," said Galaxy forward Edson Buddle, who heard them up-close-and-annoying while playing for Team USA in South Africa.

He much preferred what he heard during the Galaxy's 3-1 victory: the joyful noise of a holiday crowd celebrating the goal he scored off a setup from World Cup teammate Landon Donovan, each playing his first MLS game since the U.S. was eliminated by Ghana in a heartbreaking, extra-time loss in the round of 16.

If Buddle had played more in South Africa, maybe they could have combined for a few goals like that and the U.S. might have advanced to the quarterfinals. Or beyond.

But there's no sense in looking back.

"I know he was a little bit disappointed not to play more in South Africa but it says a lot about him that he was able to come back and put it all behind him and just get on with it," Donovan said.

Buddle made the most of his evening, coming out for a substitute in the 62nd minute after being kicked in the ankle for the second time in the game. He lingered afterward to sign autographs for fans in the announced sellout crowd of 27,000, reveling in a moment he was determined not to miss.

He had a mission: "Wanting to impress the fans so they come back on nights beside the Fourth," he said.

Donovan, also jet-lagged and fatigued, played the whole game, though he had said he would have to nurse a strained hamstring. The hamstring wasn't his problem, Coach Bruce Arena said, and Donovan conceded that.

"It's fine," he said. "Just tired, though."

Not so fatigued that he would sit out.

"It's the Fourth of July game, the first chance to be back here with my teammates," he said. "And like I've said many times, it does no good to live in the past. And this is what the present is now and it's my job to be here to play and help this team win."

He, too, has a mission: To sustain the enthusiasm generated by the U.S. World Cup team's surprising group victory and channel it toward growing the game at all levels.

We hear after every World Cup that this is soccer's moment to grow and thrive. But in a country that seems to regard soccer mostly as a nice game for kids but too dull to be a major attraction at the professional level, the boost tends to be short-term.

Fans watch the World Cup out of patriotism and for the superb play that results when the world's best athletes compete in a short-term tournament. The enthusiasm fades when it's a dreary weeknight game against a bad opponent.

Donovan is a soccer evangelist but enough of a realist to understand that not everyone will be converted.

"I think there are people who will have watched the World Cup, been excited by it and enjoyed it and will now go back to whatever their lives are and to some extent, they won't follow it the same way," he said. "The flip side to that is, my guess is that there's thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of young people who are now inspired to play our sport. And time will tell how many.

"But for us, and I say this all the time, it's a continuous growth. I know we're all now-now-now. That's the way our culture is, but it's not going to happen that way. As long as we're continuing to build our fan base, build our support, that's all we can ask for. One day we'll look back and say we all did a real good job of that."

They did a good job Sunday, that much can be said.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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