EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Landon Donovan came inches away from scoring in his final U.S. game, sending a 25th-minute shot off the right post, but the agonizing near-miss couldn’t dampen the emotional send-off that Donovan received from 36,265 U.S. fans who gave him a standing ovation as he left the field.
The score in this game—USA 1, Ecuador 1—was somewhat incidental on the night the greatest player in U.S. men’s national team history said farewell.
Here are my three quick thoughts on the evening:
• Honoring Donovan was absolutely the right thing to do
Donovan said before the game that he had to think long and hard about whether he wanted to participate given the still-simmering tension he has with U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann after being cut from the World Cup team. In the end, though, Donovan realized the moment he’d share with the fans was worth being here, and he was right.
If you were human, you couldn’t help but get goosebumps as the American Outlaws serenaded Donovan with rousing chants of "Thank-you, Lan-don!" And it wasn’t just about the fans. Donovan had 20 family members in attendance courtesy of U.S. Soccer, which Donovan said was important given how many family members had been forced to scrap their trips to Brazil after he’d missed the World Cup.
Give U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati some credit for overcoming some obstacles and making this event happen. It was the right way for Donovan to go out.
• Everyone around Donovan dealt with the situation well too
No teammate seemed to go farther out of his way to feed Donovan the ball with a chance to score than Jozy Altidore. For a guy who could use some goals of his own, Altidore understood the situation and fed Donovan two terrific balls in dangerous areas: One a gorgeous back-heel that Donovan hit off the post, and the other a useful ball that Donovan shot wide.
As for the much-discussed tension between Donovan and Klinsmann, you knew a make-up session wasn’t going to happen based on their comments this week, but they did at least shake hands as Donovan came off the field in the 41st minute. Was it a slightly awkward bro-hug? Yeah, but it was a lot better than if there had been a fly-by handshake snub.
• There was an actual game, too
Ecuador wasn’t going to play the role of the Washington Generals here, not with players like Enner Valencia, Walter Ayoví and Segundo Castillo around. And there were some positive takeaways for Klinsmann, who for the second straight game opted for a lineup without a traditional defensive midfielder (Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya started in the central midfield.)
Diskerud scored and played well overall, showing some real vision and some unexpected defensive aptitude, and Brad Guzan made some big stops, especially in the first half. DeAndre Yedlin was dangerous at times starting as a right midfielder, making you wonder if that position might be where his future really is.
There were some downers, too. Youngster Joe Gyau, who has shown real promise at Borussia Dortmund, left the game with what was reported as a sprained left knee just 13 minutes into the match. A late Ecuador goal by Enner Valencia—with no pressure from the U.S. defense—took some of the shine off what should have been a U.S. win in Donovan's final national team game. The U.S. had a chance still to come away with the win, but a golden opportunity that was brewing with Bobby Wood and Chris Wondolowski went wasted in the dying embers.