Landon Donovan will bring the curtain down on his record-setting career for the United States men’s national team against Ecuador on Friday. The friendly in East Hartford, Connecticut, has been earmarked for Donovan to make his final appearance for his country ahead of his retirement at the end of the current Major League Soccer season. Fittingly for a player who has made 156 appearances, scoring a record 57 goals and adding a further record-setting 58 assists, the 32-year-old will captain the side on his farewell. But there will be tension, too, amid the celebratory atmosphere.
Donovan was denied the chance to add to his record five goals for the U.S. at World Cups when he was surprisingly left out of the final squad for Brazil by coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Rumors of friction in the relationship between player and coach had already been brewing since he took a sabbatical from the game at the end of 2012. A mocking tweet sent by Klinsmann’s son, Jonathan, following Donovan’s exclusion from the World Cup squad furthered the impression that there was a personal rift. In an interview with Sports Illustrated this week, Donovan stated that he had yet to receive an apology for the tweet and that he hasn’t spoken to Klinsmann at all about his final appearance, in which it has been confirmed that he will play for just 30 minutes. And the Los Angeles Galaxy forward explained he had to give serious consideration before taking up US Soccer’s invitation for a farewell appearance.
“I thought about it for a while,” he said. “Obviously, this summer didn’t leave the best taste in my mouth with everything that happened. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was something that I think would be really special, not only for me to feel and receive, but also my opportunity to say thank you.”
Once Donovan leaves the stage, the focus will turn toward the future. As he did for a friendly win over the Czech Republic last month, Klinsmann has again named a squad featuring plenty of inexperienced faces as he looks toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Club commitments at the business end of the MLS season mean that Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Matt Besler nor Graham Zusi will be involved against Ecuador. They could come back into the picture, though, for the friendly with Honduras next Tuesday.
For the time being, there will be opportunities for the likes of Borussia Dortmund forward Joe Gyau, Ingolstadt’s Alfredo Morales and 20-year-old Real Salt Late midfielder Luis Gil. The headline-grabbing selection, though, was Miguel Ibarra. The 24-year-old Minnesota United forward has become the first player in almost a decade to earn a call up to the U.S. national team while playing in the effective second-tier North American Soccer League after scoring eight goals and producing five assists this season.
“Miguel in his game is maybe a bit of a late bloomer coming now through the NASL system, but he has done tremendously well there the whole season,” Klinsmann told USSoccer.com. “We watched him and a couple other players in the league, and they might go a different path than coming through MLS, Europe or Mexico, but he’s a good example that there are different ways to get all the way to the top.”
While the U.S. may well have a more experienced side for the meeting with Honduras, its toughest test is likely to be come on Friday. Ecuador beat Honduras at the 2014 World Cup, although they still narrowly missed out on progressing to the last 16 to cost coach Reinaldo Rueda his job. Sixto Vizuete is now in charge of a country that finished fourth in the ultra-competitive South American qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. While he hasn’t been able to call upon Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, the U.S. will have to watch out for his namesake Enner. The former Pachuca striker scored a sensational goal in his first start for Premier League side West Ham United and has settled impressively quickly in England.
Prediction: The U.S. should be boosted by what is sure to be a fervent atmosphere in the stadium to greet Donovan’s sendoff. And, while he clearly isn’t a favorite of Klinsmann, his form for the LA Galaxy this season has shown that he remains a fine player. There is reason to think that the U.S. can pose problems for an Ecuador defense that is far from secure, especially if Jozy Altidore can rediscover his scoring touch. But there is also a lack of strength in a defensive sense, both in midfield and at the back. Ecuador have the quality to punish that vulnerability, but the U.S. may just secure a narrow triumph.
USA 2-1 Ecuador
Kickoff time: 7 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN, UniMas