Expect tributes and some awkwardness at Landon Donovan farewell
The Landon Donovan era in U.S. soccer will come to an end on Friday as the national team’s top scorer plays his final game in a friendly against Ecuador, closing the door on a career which saw him feature in three World Cups.
The build-up to the game has been accompanied by tributes from players past and present along with media appreciations of a 14-year career which saw the Californian play in 156 internationals, scoring 57 goals.
Donovan will captain the team and will no doubt receive a warm send-off from fans who understand that while the 32-year-old may never have ranked among the very best players in the world, he has certainly been a central figure in the growth of the game in the United States.
But while efforts will be made to put aside the bitterness caused by U.S coach Juergen Klinsmann’s decision to leave Donovan out of his squad for this year`s World Cup in Brazil, there will surely be some awkwardness about the occasion.
Donovan was swift to criticise Klinsmann’s tactics after the U.S’s second round exit at the hands of Belgium, confirming, if any had doubted, that there is no love lost between the two.
Klinsmann is in charge of the team for Friday’s game which will feature a young and experimental squad as the U.S. coach begins a new cycle towards the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
But the former Germany striker and coach will probably opt for a low-key role in Hartford, Connecticut, with any attempt at a public reconciliation with Donovan likely to be met with cynicism.
Donovan even said in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated that he had to consider whether to accept the offer, from U.S Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, to make a formal final bow.
“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 realised 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.”
After Friday’s game, the U.S, without Donovan, will face CONCACAF rivals Honduras in a friendly in Boca Raton, Florida and Klinsmann said the two fixtures mark the start of a process.
“We look at these two games as an opportunity to take a picture of the player pool as it stands now,” said Klinsmann.
“Already the hierarchy starts to shift in some ways, which is normal at the beginning of a cycle.
"We are excited to look at this group against a very competitive team like Ecuador, and then we will have a chance to bring some different faces for the game against Honduras.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a special night on Friday as everyone in the U.S. Soccer family will have the chance to honour the amazing career of Landon Donovan.”
While all eyes will be on Donovan, one intriguing call-up in Klinsmann’s squad is uncapped winger Miguel Ibarra.
The 24-year-old plays in the second-tier North American Soccer League for Minnesota United – the first time a player from that competition has been called up and another reminder that Klinsmann is not afraid to make unorthodox decisions.