Photo by USA Today Sports Images
By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Landon Donovan played his final game at Crew Stadium on Saturday evening, 15 years, two months, and 25 days after his first appearance in the United States’ first soccer-specific stadium.
Prior to the match, which finished 4-1 in favor of the Columbus Crew, the hosts honored Donovan with a video tribute and a gift that included a piece of the net from a prior appearance in central Ohio. That day came last September when he scored the second goal in another U.S. Men’s National Team Dos a Cero victory over Mexico to earn qualification to the 2014 World Cup.
An emotional Donovan was joined on the field for the tribute by Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter and club ambassador Frankie Hejduk, both former teammates with the LA Galaxy and the national team. When the montage wrapped up, Donovan was given a standing ovation from the Crew fans.
“It was incredible,” Donovan said of his reception at Crew Stadium. “I don’t know how many of you were here when the stadium was first built but this became the home of soccer for many, many years, being the first soccer-specific stadium.
“I have memories here with the Under-17 National Team, many games with the national team, many games with the (San Jose) Earthquakes and the Galaxy here against the Crew, and I can’t imagine there’s another stadium I’ve played in more throughout the league. A lot of very, very good memories here.”
In between his first appearance in 1999 and last appearance at Crew Stadium, Donovan appeared in no less than 20 games for both club and country as well as an MLS All-Star Game appearance in 2005.
Crew Stadium’s opening in 1999 coincided with the start of Donovan’s illustrious career, and both the player and venue will forever be intertwined in American soccer history. On May 22, 1999, Donovan started and scored the final goal in a 4-0 hammering of El Salvador by the Under-17 U.S. Men’s National Team.
In between then and now, Donovan appeared for both the Galaxy and Earthquakes in Columbus many times. He has lots of great memories there, scoring in the 2001 MLS Cup final for the Earthquakes, beating Fulham in the 2005 MLS All-Star Game and, of course, defeating Mexico with the U.S. on three occasions in World Cup qualifying by the all-too-familiar 2-0 scoreline.
“Landon’s had a great career and to be recognized in these markets we go to is tremendous,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “It was a tremendous gesture on behalf of the Crew and we’re very grateful for that.”
While his final game in Columbus ended in disappointment, Donovan will always hold on to the memory of how the Crew and their fans treated him one final time.
“I was very appreciative of them doing (the ceremony),” Donovan said. “They certainly didn’t have to, and I give them a lot of credit and a lot of respect to Gregg and the whole organization.”