By FRANCO PANIZO
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Ecuador sure knows how to spoil a party.
The U.S. Men’s National Team was on the brink of sending Landon Donovan into international retirement with a win, but a late goal from Enner Valencia saw Ecuador grab a 1-1 draw at Rentschler Field on Friday night.
Valencia struck from distance in the 88th minute, beating Brad Guzan with a shot that snuck inside the near post and negating Mix Diskerud’s fourth-minute opener in the Americans’ first home match since the World Cup.
“I think we saw a really entertaining game,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “It was a nice game between both sides. I think we controlled the first 60 minutes and did really, really well over those 60 minutes. We should’ve scored the second goal, simple as that, to close it down.”
Donovan almost had a goal of his own in his 157th and final appearance for the U.S., but he was respectively denied on separate occasions by Ecuador goalkeeper Maximo Banguera and the post.
An early exit for Donovan was preordained. He played 41 minutes before being subbed off to a standing ovation and sharing a brief exchange of words with Klinsmann.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” said Donovan. “I’m not overly comfortable with that kind of attention on me, and so it was a battle with myself to just try to enjoy it and allow it and appreciate it, while balancing still trying to play a game.”
A negative development for the U.S. came early in the first half, as left midfielder Joe Gyau sustained a knee injury and had to be replaced in the 22nd minute by forward Bobby Wood.
“It was a bummer to lose Joe Gyau with a potential knee issue,” said Klinsmann. “We will figure that out with the medical staff by tomorrow morning. We hope it’s not so bad.”
While Gyau’s early exit put a slight damper on the match, the atmosphere remained electric. The festivities to honor the 32-year-old Donovan began before kickoff, and the raucous crowd of 36,256 were celebrating a goal not long after unfurling a tifo commemorating the veteran’s legendary career.
Donovan, who served as captain until coming off, helped create the sequence by hitting a cross from the left. It ultimately ended with DeAndre Yedlin passing to Mix Diskerud at the top of the box, and Diskerud proceeding to tuck a shot to the low right corner.
“It was always going to be an exciting start just because of Landon being on the field and what the game meant to him and us as a team and organization,” said Guzan. “It was always going to be a high, high energy start to the game and, luckily, we were able to get a goal from it.”
Donovan then had his pair of chances to add to the Americans lead, but could not capitalize on a header in the ninth minute and was cruelly denied by the post in the 25th.
Ecuador could have pulled level not long after when Renato Ibarra took advantage of a bad play by Timmy Chandler and raced in on goal. Guzan, however, made himself big and stopped the shot.
The U.S. had other opportunities to score again, but Altidore and Wood failed to convert on their looks.
Altidore sent a skipping shot wide of the far post in the 17th minute after pulling off a nice turn near the top of the penalty area, and Wood failed to volley a DeAndre Yedlin cross on frame in the 66th minute.
“We had our chances to win the game,” said centerback Omar Gonzalez, who entered the match in the second half. “We just weren’t sharp enough, and if we do finish a couple of them, we win the game easily.”
As the game wore on and Klinsmann made more substitutions, the Ecuadorians began finding a rhythm. They threatened to find an equalizer, but some scrambling defending relieved the pressure.
The U.S. ultimately paid for its inability to find an insurance goal. Valencia lined up a shot from outside the penalty area that soared into the net with two minutes remaining, ensuring that Donovan’s special night would not end with a victory.
“I couldn’t see it come off his foot,” said Guzan. “It came over the top of Tim Ream. As soon as it came over, it was just constantly leaving me. I took a step to my right, nine times out of 10 that either gets blocked or you probably make a save but unfortunately tonight it wasn’t to be.”
What do you think of the U.S.’s 1-1 draw with Ecuador? How did Donovan do in his final international outing? Which Americans were you impressed/disappointed by?
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