It’s a testament to Landon Donovan that this, the last scoring chance of his international career, will be remembered for its irony – the man who scored so many huge goals for his team missing his chance to record a final one for himself. Against Ecuador, at the beginning of a World Cup cycle, today’s game couldn’t have meant any less, if it wasn’t for the history of the occasion. In a match that was the first of its kind, Landon Donovan got his testimonial, an honor befitting the most important soccer player his country’s ever known.
As I type, the second half has just started, but this game was over 22 minutes ago. That’s when Donovan came off for Joe Corona six minutes later than expected, making sure to shake every hand as he went. Joe Benny’s, the fourth official’s, the linesman’s – everybody touched history before the legend met his coach. As awkward as that was – and for such an emotional night, it was certainly restrained …
… it still couldn’t overshadow the larger moment. Landon was done.
At halftime, next to two of the other most recognizable players in team history (Alexi Lalas, Kasey Keller), Donovan reiterated his boilerplate. He’s going to travel, he’ll spend time with family, but he’s most certainly done. Both his mind and his body are ready, he said. He’s looking forward to getting away.
He was composed as ever, having rehearsed these lines over the last few weeks, but one moment almost got him. “Are you trying to make me cry, Bob,” Landon asked ESPN’s host (Bob Ley), when asked the break’s final question. What the question was about (taking off the uniform for the last time) doesn’t matter. The reflective glare off the wells in his eyes showed him captured by the moment.
And who can blame him? Friday night was an athlete’s dream. Donovan said as much. How many players get the honor of seeing their sport stop to say thank you? And how many have so thoroughly earned it?
As dramatic (and often, drawn out) as this week was, there was no question Donovan deserved it. And in time, hopefully other players will get the same honor.
Donovan, however, will always be the first.
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