EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — This was closure for Landon Donovan.
It’s impossible not to use psychology terms when describing Donovan, who has spoken over the years of seeing therapists and probing his inner self, of seeking happiness in his life in a way that would help influence his work -- a job that, when it came down to it, involved having the greatest career in U.S. men’s national team history.
Sports are ruthless, though, and the peace that came with those feats dissolved into chaos in May, when U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann cut Donovan from the World Cup team. We never saw the three-minute conversation that took place that day in Palo Alto, Calif., but we know the two men had not spoken to each other since.
At least they hadn’t until Friday, when circumstances finally brought them together in the same room. Donovan had agreed to play in a final U.S. game to honor him before his retirement, and while nothing was forgotten, necessarily, they managed to break the ice. To move forward.
“We had a good conversation,” Donovan said after the game, a 1-1 tie with Ecuador. “And we both agreed that we wanted tonight to be about tonight, and that’s it. So it was nice, and I’m appreciative of everything that everyone did to make tonight special.”
Said Klinsmann: “I told him before the game that the door is always open for him. He built this team. He built so many things for U.S. Soccer. He deserves the biggest cheers.”
There were plenty of reasons the situation on Friday wasn’t perfect. Most of Donovan’s U.S. teammates over the years -- DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and more -- weren’t able to be here for a variety of reasons. And the location in New England was a bit odd, considering Donovan’s California roots. Donovan didn’t even train with the team this week before the game.
But in the end, Friday’s festivities were the best thing that could have happened for Donovan and for U.S. Soccer, a chance for the U.S.’s signature player to conclude his national team career on the high note it deserved. Instead of feeling bitterness toward his May exit, Donovan had the chance -- literally -- to look back on his entire national team journey from boy to man.
After the game, Donovan stood stock still on the field, his arms folded, his legs spread wide, and watched a video montage of his greatest highlights, soccer scenes from his childhood and everything in between. Then the tears came. “I sort of felt like I was watching it almost from an outsider’s view and watching my life on the screen and the way I’ve grown up through soccer,” he said. “I think that’s what got me.”
Later, Donovan climbed into the stands to lead the American Outlaws in a raucous rendition of "I Believe," the infectious chant that became the anthem of U.S. fans in Brazil. It was a goosebumps moment, the kind that only soccer seems to provide, and only then on the most special of occasions.
Landon Donovan needed this night. U.S. Soccer needed this night. U.S. fans needed this night. Closure finally came.
“It was beyond my wildest dreams,” Donovan said, and he was right.