BOISE — Landon Donovan has played in a lot of cities throughout his prolific career.
Arguably the greatest male American soccer player of all-time, he crossed another one off his list. He scored a goal in the United States National Arena Soccer Team’s 7-2 loss to Mexico in a friendly Saturday night at CenturyLink Arena.
“Growing up, we at least once a year drove up old Highway 395 from Southern California to Boise because a lot of my family lives here. Aunts, cousins, my grandma lived here for a long time,” Donovan said. “So this city’s always had a special place in my heart. And when you see something like this, it tells you that soccer can be successful in this town. So I think whether it’s an indoor team or a (United Soccer League) team, I think it would be fantastic for this city, and you can tell they’d really get behind it.”
Donovan, who has played in three World Cups, scored the United States’ first goal of the game 10 seconds into the third period that cut the deficit in half at 2-1. After Travis Pittman deflected Mexico keeper Raul Sarabia’s clear out, the rebound landed right at Donovan’s feet. The crowd erupted moments later to honor the U.S. Men’s National Team’s all-time assist leader (58), who is tied for the most goals (57).
“I loved it, as a human being it’s an awesome feeling,” Donovan said. “Anytime you play this game and people are watching and especially paying to watch, and you have the ability to reward them, that’s a special feeling. So I enjoyed it.”
But Mexico’s Christian Gutierrez quickly took the air right out of the arena. He scored the second of his two goals with a shot to the high post just a minute later to put the lead back up to 3-1.
Israel Sesay got the crowd back into by cutting the lead back down to 3-2 by slipping a goal just out of the outreached arms of Sarabia with 4:41 left in the third. He celebrated by sprinting to the other side of the field and jumping on the guardrail before saluting those in attendance.
“That’s my celebration,” Sesay said.
Mexico, though, took the momentum right back just before the end of the third. Edgar Gonzalez used the wall for an assist. The ball bounced right off the wall following a clear out and to the feet of Gonzalez, who was waiting two feet away from the goal for an easy tap-in that put the lead at 4-2.
After the United States failed to convert on a penalty kick by Evan McNely, a kick that coach Phillip Salvagio wanted Donovan to take, and an empty-net miss by Franck Tayou, Mexico scored three consecutive goals in the final five minutes to end the game. Rena Flores and Ismael Rojo each scored their second goals of the game, while Emannuel Aguirre got in on the scoring action himself.
“I called Landon’s number on it and he gave it to Evan at the last minute. He should have took it. He would have buried it and that would have put us right back in the game,” Salvagio said. “So those are the opportunities that you miss that make the whole game. It comes down to two or three plays.”
The first half also belonged to Mexico.
It scored the game’s first goal at the 8:36 mark of the first period when United States keeper Boris Pardo tried to clear the ball out of his own goal. Flores took it away from him instead by deflecting the kick back to himself for an easy chip-in.
Mexico then doubled up its lead two minutes into the second period after Christian Gutierrez took a cross from Rojo and slid it past Pardo on the right side.
It was the third straight year that the U.S. National Arena Soccer Team played in Boise at CenturyLink Arena. Team USA won a four-team tournament against Mexico, Colombia and Somalia last summer before losing to Brazil in 2017.
“Boise needs to join the MASL,” Salvagio said. “Make sure you print that.”