Photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – After the final whistle blew at RFK Stadium on Sunday and the U.S. national team had celebrated its 2-0 win over Jamaica in the Gold Cup quarterfinals, midfielder Landon Donovan took a moment to reflect on a whirlwind weekend that, he was happy to say, turned out memorable for all the right reasons.
"It's been wonderful," Donovan said. "It's a little exhausting, but when you see your twin sister get married and win a quarterfinal game in a Gold Cup within 14 hours, that's not too bad."
Donovan and teammate Clint Dempsey both had family weddings to attend Saturday — Donovan's in California, Dempsey's in Texas — causing them to miss the past three days of U.S. training and not arrive in Washington until Sunday morning.
Donovan's flight landed in the nation's capital at about 7:30 a.m., less than eight hours before kickoff. The national team's all-time leading scorer then ate breakfast and chatted with coach Bob Bradley before getting an hour of sleep and beginning preparation for a match Bradley decided he would not start.
"When you make decision on a lineup, you size up all sorts of things," Bradley explained. "It's been a busy stretch for Landon and we felt with an afternoon game, it made sense to use him as a reserve, and that we could bring him on and he would give us a lot.
Dempsey's plane, on the other hand, arrived from Nacogdoches, Texas, shortly before Donovan's. Bradley elected to start Dempsey on the left flank in the Americans' 4-2-3-1 formation, and the 28-year-old responded by playing the entire contest and sealing the U.S. win with an 80th-minute strike.
"I said, 'I'm ready to go,'" Dempsey recalled. "I was disappointed with my performance against Guadeloupe [on Tuesday], that I wasn't able to finish some of the chances that I got. I wanted to make sure that I came out today and did whatever I could to help the team win."
Donovan, meanwhile, entered as a 65th-minute substitute for midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, with the U.S. already leading 1-0 on a Jermaine Jones tally, and helped set up Dempsey's clincher.
The two instrumental attacking players received permission from Bradley to leave the team ahead of the quarterfinals well in advance, and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati arranged the private flights that ensured Donovan and Dempsey touched down in Washington in time.
"I know we get caught up in the soccer world, but there certainly are things that are equally if not more important to a lot of us," Donovan said. "I am very grateful that Bob and U.S. Soccer made all the efforts to not only let us go but to get us here so we could contribute."
Discussing his decision to release the players ahead of a critical match, Bradley brought up similar circumstances surrounding his own wedding in 1986. His brother, Scott, a catcher who spent most of his career with the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, was set to be the best man.
Scott, however, was traded shortly before the wedding. So Bob told his brother "before he had five seconds to think about it" that he should stay with his team and miss the ceremony.
But as Bob Bradley noted, "That doesn't mean just because I did it that way, that's right for somebody else. You learn in all of this there's give and take, and you always try to do what's best for the team. And you make tough decisions.
"Ultimately, after speaking at different points with Landon and Clint, I knew how important both of these days were for them. "
When all was said and done, Donovan and Dempsey both played roles as the Yanks advanced to Wednesday's semifinals in Houston all the same. While Dempsey realized it wasn't the most conventional route, he was glad to appease both his team and family loyalties.
"I just wanted to pay back the U.S. team for letting me go to my sister's wedding, put in a good performance and not let the travel be an excuse," Dempsey said.