Landon Donovan was agonizingly denied a fairytale farewell in a match that saw the United States denied victory late on against Ecuador in East Hartford, Conn. Enner Valencia’s wicked shot from distance with two minutes remaining cancelled out an early strike from Mix Diskerud.
In a final ceremonial appearance to bring the curtain down on his 14-year career with the U.S. men’s national team, Donovan looked anything but out of place in a sendoff that was extended past its stated 30-minute time limit. And he came within a whisker of extending his record goal-scoring tally for his country to 58 when his poked shot came back off the inside of the post. He did, though, play a part in setting up his team’s only goal. It was the Los Angeles Galaxy star’s cross that was laid off by DeAndre Yedlin for Diskerud to strike home in just the fifth minute.
Even coach Jurgen Klinsmann, with whom Donovan described his relationship as “non-existent” this week, appeared desperate for the man he left out of his 2014 World Cup squad to get a goal before his international career came to an end. It wasn’t forthcoming, but the star of the night did get an apt standing ovation from all four corners of Rentschler Field and a longer than perhaps anticipated, although still undeniably awkward, embrace with Klinsmann.
As a player who did so much to bring U.S. soccer to where it is today bowed out, Klinsmann’s process of trying to take the country onto another level again in Russia in four year’s time continued. Diskerud impressed as the dictating hub in midfield, particularly in a first half that saw a much better display from the U.S. than in a substitution-riddled second. Ecuador, which looked dangerous throughout, ensured there was some disappointment at the end of a celebratory evening when West Ham’s Valencia continued his fine scoring run for his country. It will be hoped that an early knee injury that forced Joe Gyau, who along with Greg Garza, was making his first U.S. appearance on home soil, to be taken off.
This night was all about Donovan, though. After receiving a special shirt to commemorate his historic career with the U.S., Donovan showed that he could still be a part of the international setup without the need for his testimonial occasion. In the opening minutes, he made a telling contribution. Having got to the byline down the left, his deep cross was kept alive by Jozy Altidore. Yedlin, playing in a more advanced midfield role, then showed impressive composure for a 21-year-old to tee up Diskerud and the Rosenborg midfielder met the ball with a first-time shot to get his fourth goal for his country.
It was far from Donovan’s last involvement against a shaky Ecuador defense that might almost have been hand-picked to try and ensure him a last moment to savor. He could have scored with a quick-reaction header from close range that Ecuador keeper Maximo Banguera did well to repel. After Altidore had missed a good chance to cap an otherwise encouraging performance for the striker struggling at club level with Sunderland, Donovan came even closer to finding the net one last time. Altidore played a his forward partner in with a clever drag back, but, under pressure, Donovan’s shot struck the post. After he failed to get onto the rebound, he laid on the ground with his head in his hands in recognition that it just wasn’t meant to be. When he then fired wide from the edge of the area, already past his agreed stint on the field, the time had come for him to bid farewell.
In his absence, Yedlin came close to making it 2-0 before the break. In an open first half there could have been more goals at both ends, with Brad Guzan having to bail out his defense on a couple of occasions. Substitutions came thick and fast after the interval to predictably interrupt the game’s rhythm. But Ecuador, which only just failed to miss the last 16 at the World Cup, came on strong at the end and finally got their reward. Valencia’s shot form 30 yards moved all over the place and may well have got a touch off substitute Tim Ream, but it certainly had enough to wrong-foot Guzan and find the net. With almost the final kick of the game another of the young players with hopes to be a part of the post-Donovan era, fluffed his lines when through on goal to leave the scores tied.