|Landon Donovan acknowledges the fans after his final match during an international friendly against Ecuador at Rentschler Field on Oct. 10, 2014 in East Hartford, Connecticut.
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- As one of the most emotionally charged days in his career wound down Friday night, Landon Donovan admitted he finally lost it only minutes after playing in his final match with U.S. Soccer’s men’s national team.
He was in the center circle at Rentschler Field along with his mother, twin sister, girlfriend, U.S. national team teammates and coach Jurgen Klinsmann and started crying while watching a video of his international highlights on the scoreboard.
"The best for me was watching the video and actually letting myself go a little bit," Donovan told reporters in a crowded press conference room. "I was so focused on all the other stuff that's going on. I'm sort of just doing, doing and doing, and allowed myself to just be with it. That was nice."
Donovan had just finished his 157th and final game of a distinguished international career that helped define American soccer the past 15 years.
"It was a lot of moments and memories," he said after the U.S. played Ecuador to a 1-1 draw. "My life has been shaped through this sport. I'm so blessed because I've been able to grow with all the experiences this sport has given me. And that's pretty cool. I've been very fortunate."
Donovan then took a personal victory lap — he walked around the field as many of the 36,265 fans stayed beyond the final whistle to say goodbye to the most accomplished player in U.S. men's soccer history. He applauded back and even encouraged them to cheer as well.
"A little out of character for me, but sometimes you have to let go," he said. "Those people, supporters’ clubs and American Outlaws, they're the blood of this team and the sport. When I started there probably was a few hundred people, now there are thousands of people."
Donovan was a major reason for the growth of the fans and of the game in the United States, with his personal feats, which included that dramatic, stoppage-time goal against Algeria in the 2010 FIFA World Cup that propelled the Americans to their group title and into the second round. He leaves as Team USA's leader in goals (57) and assists (58). He also represented the U.S. when it finished fourth in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
"It was beyond my wildest dreams for sure," Donovan said of Friday night. "As a human being to feel that kind of support is incredible. I've put a lot into this game over many years and tonight it feels like it was all worth it."
Only one thing could have topped it — a goal. The 32-year-old superstar came close, when he drilled a 15-yard shot off the right post in the 25th minute.
"I think the goal was off center a bit," Donovan said. "That's OK. Maybe it wasn't meant to be."
Donovan was supposed to play only 30 minutes, but Klinsmann decided to have him stay on the field.
"He did very well," Klinsmann said. "That’s why I left him longer than planned. I had the feeling he needs another chance and maybe he puts one in."
In the most controversial moves of his three-year tenure as U.S. coach, Klinsmann left Donovan off the World Cup team. He seemed to be in a more conciliatory mood Friday night.
"He built this team. He built so many things for U.S. Soccer," Klinsmann said. "He deserves the biggest crowd, the biggest cheers."
Donovan received the biggest cheers in the 41st minute, when Klinsmann substituted him for Joe Corona.
DeAndre Yedlin gave Donovan a big hug, then Jozy Altidore did the same as Donovan took his the captain's armband and gave it to the striker. One by one, every player on the field hugged Donovan.
As he walked off the field, the crowd gave Donovan a standing ovation and the forward returned the applause. He reached the sideline and Corona hugged him before Klinsmann embraced him as well.
"He told me he should have taken me to Brazil,” Donovan said. “Just kidding.”
Donovan might be ready to hang up his cleats, but he still has plenty left in the tank based on the way he has performed for the L.A. Galaxy this season.
Asked if he thought Donovan could play a few more years, Klinsmann replied, "If he wanted to, absolutely."
But Donovan has insisted this is it, even though he has been lured to stay in the game.
"I already have dealt with some of that, believe it or not," he said. "It's nice to feel wanted. I'm pretty sure this is it. I'm going to enjoy myself and enjoy the next chapter."
Before closing the book for good on his career, Donovan's next chapter will be with the Galaxy, which is battling the Seattle Sounders for the Supporters Shield with three games remaining in the Major League Soccer regular season and an undetermined number of playoff games.
The ending of that chapter is yet to be written. If he had it his way, Donovan would go out a champion by winning his sixth MLS Cup final.
But that's another story for another time.
Michael Lewis, who covers soccer for Newsday, has written about the sport for four decades and has written six books about soccer. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.