EAST HARTFORD, Connecticut – Landon Donovan stood alone at midfield, his US national team career playing out on the video board in front of him, and the tears began to fall.
A little more than two hours before, Donovan had pulled on the armband and taken the field with the USMNT for the last time in his career. He’d helped set up a goal. He’d struck the post. He’d even led the American Outlaws in the ‘I believe that we will win’ chant after the game.
In the wake of the roster cut that ended his international career just short of four World Cups, Donovan admitted a farewell match held little appeal a few months ago. After the fact, with 20 family members in attendance, he acknowledged it was a moment he’d never forget.
“It was beyond my wildest dreams for sure,” he said. “As a human being, to feel that kind of love and support is incredible. I’ve put a lot into this game over many years and tonight feels like it was all worth it. I’m very grateful.”
More than 36,000 fans packed into Rentschler Field to send off the man who holds USMNT records for minutes played, goals and assists. And while a 1-1 draw with Ecuador was a fair result, it was ultimately secondary to the hoopla surrounding Donovan’s testimonial.
U.S. Soccer presented Donovan with a framed jersey containing swatches of the kits he’d worn during his career before the game, and the American Outlaws followed that up by hoisting a tifo honoring the program’s unquestioned No. 10 on a date (10/10/14) that seemed dictated by destiny.
Starting alongside Jozy Altidore up top in a 4-4-2 formation, Donovan wasted no time enthralling the crowd, forcing a smart save on a glancing header before helping set up Mix Diskerud’s opening goal after a surging run and cross.
Then, the fairytale nearly complete, Donovan found himself in alone on goal in the 25th minute, five before he was originally scheduled to exit, and rolled a shot that seemed predestined for the far corner. Instead, it smacked the post, and Donovan saw another chance go wide before coming off to hugs and a standing ovation in the 41st minute.
He even shared a cordial, if not a bit awkward, moment with Klinsmann as he came off the field, a handshake, brief embrace and a few words bringing their on-field relationship to an end.
“He told me he should have taken me to Brazil,” Donovan deadpanned. “No, I’m just kidding.”
“Jurgen and I spoke today. We had a good conversation. We both agreed that we wanted tonight to be about tonight, and that’s it.”
Klinsmann, meanwhile, admitted Friday was the first time the two men had spoken since May, when Donovan was among the final cuts for Brazil.
Not for lack of trying on his part, the German claimed, saying a new phone number kept his voicemails from reaching their intended destination and a new email address prevented Donovan from seeing his son Jonathan’s apology for a tweet that appeared to mock the USMNT legend’s absence from the World Cup team.
“We wish him only the best,” Klinsmann said. “I told him before the game that this door is always open for him. This is his team. He built this cycle, he built this team, he built so many things for US soccer. He deserves the biggest crowd, the biggest cheers. We all told him before the game to enjoy it.”
The emotions of the occasion were still fresh when he sat down to address the media, and it was clear Donovan had found a bit of much-needed closure in a night that revolved around his contributions to the sport and the sacrifices that made those contributions so profound.
And as he passed the torch to a new crop of players eager to live up to his legacy, Donovan couldn’t help but look back on the moments that made him the man he will be as he transitions to a new life.
“My life has been shaped through this sport,” Donovan said. “I’m so blessed because I’ve been able to grow and learn with all the experiences that this sport has given me.”