BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 21: Landon Donovan #10 of the United States celebrates after scoring a goal against El Salvador in the second half during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal game at M&T Bank Stadium on July 21, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE - Forget any lingering talk that Landon Donovan isn't in love with soccer anymore.
Donovan scored and notched three assists in Sunday's 5-1 win over El Salvador, clinching the U.S. a spot in the Gold Cup semifinals.
"I'm just having a lot of fun," Donovan said after the match. "I'm enjoying myself."
His goal in the 78th minute was proof the 31-year-old hasn't lost a step since his self-imposed sabbatical.
A U.S. goal kick from Nick Rimando was flicked into open space by teammate Eddie Johnson. With one man to beat, Donovan turned on the afterburners. He took a perfect touch at the top of the penalty area, getting around Salvadoran goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo before coolly slotting it home on an open net.
Donovan slid to his knees in the pouring rain, reaching his hands to the heavens in celebration.
"Today was my mom's 60th birthday so I was pushing hard to try and score a goal and it finally came," Donovan said. "It was a nice present for her."
He extended his own U.S. records, tallying his 54th career goal and reaching 55 assists, in his 149th appearance for the national team. Donovan is the only player in Gold Cup history to score in six separate tournaments, his first back in 2002.
Donovan was omitted from the team's roster for World Cup qualifiers in June and coach Jurgen Klinsmann has said time and time again that the playmaker has to earn his way back.
He's certainly made his case since joining up with the team for the Gold Cup, scoring five goals in five matches. Still, Klinsmann won't say definitively how - or if - Donovan will fit into the squad once World Cup qualifying resumes in September.
"For us we take it one game at a time and Landon again proved today how valuable he is," Klinsmann said. "For coaches, it's important to see who's a difference maker out there, who, when things go a little bit the wrong way, they take the game on themselves and Landon was one of those players."
Donovan was in the middle of an ugly incident in the match's dying minutes, when Salvadoran fans were "throwing a bunch of stuff" at him as he prepared to take a corner kick.
"We were fine and ready to play, the ref wanted it to stop. Fortunately some of their players came over and settled the crowd down."
With his team leading 5-1, Donovan had some fun with the situation, snatching up a pair of sunglasses that were chucked at him. The veteran of three World Cups had them just about all the way on his face before an assistant referee took them away.
After the match, Donovan took a jab at the largely pro-Salvadoran crowd that filled a sold-out M&T Bank Stadium.
"My experience in these games is they show up with their El Salvador jersey on and once we score a few goals they rip it off and have a USA jersey on."
Whether he figures into the team's plans for September and beyond remains to be seen, but it certainly seems Donovan has his swagger back.
By Jesse Yomtov