He had come oh-so-close to scoring during his national team farewell, listened to fans repeatedly serenade him with his name, accepted presents and exchanged hugs.
And then, when he stood on the field at the end and watched some of the many highlights of his 15-year-old international career flashed on the giant video board, Landon Donovan no longer could hold back the tears.
"It was beyond my wildest dreams, for sure," Donovan said after the United States tied Ecuador 1-1 on Friday night in his 157th international appearance. "As a human being, to feel that kind of love and support is incredible. I've put a lot into this game over many years and tonight feels like it was all worth it."
He nearly scored in the 25th minute, when he sprinted onto a backheel pass from Jozy Altidore, took a touch and beat goalkeeper Maximo Banguera with a right-footed shot from 12 yards. But the ball clanked off a post, and Donovan couldn't beat Banguera and Walter Ayovi to the rebound. He sent another long shot just over the crossbar a few minutes later.
Donovan, the American career leader in international goals (57) and assists (58), had been estranged from the national team since coach Jurgen Klinsmann cut him from the World Cup roster on May 22, ending Donovan's dream of a fourth trip to soccer's showcase. The 32-year-old forward announced in August that he will retire from soccer after completing this season with Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.
But U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati persuaded him to play in this testimonial, which drew a crowd of 36,265 to Rentschler Field. Fans repeatedly chanted "Thank You Landon!" and they gave him a minute-long standing ovation when he was replaced by Joe Corona in the 41st.
Donovan was congratulated by teammates as he left the field. After captaining his country for the 19th time, Donovan handed the armband to Altidore and then exchanged a brief handshake and hug with Klinsmann.
"He told me he should have taken me to Brazil," Donovan deadpanned after the game before quickly adding: "I'm just kidding."
"Jurgen and I spoke today. We had a good conversation," Donovan went on, "and we both agreed that we wanted tonight to be about tonight."
Donovan and Klinsmann had not spoken since the day Donovan was cut after a training session at Stanford University. They criticized each other from afar but finally talked to each other Friday.
"I told him before the game that this door here is always open for him," Klinsmann said. "This is his team. He built this team. He built so many things for U.S. soccer. So he deserves the biggest crowd, the biggest cheers here."
Klinsmann's son, Jonathan, created a stir on the day of the World Cup roster announcement with a tweet that mocked Donovan. Jonathan, a goalkeeper on the U.S. under-18 roster, was told to apologize by his father.
"I left him messages on his phone, which I found out was the wrong cell number because he changed it," the coach said, "and he confirmed, too, that my son sent him an email, which he didn't get because he changed the email address. We cleaned that up right away, so it's no problem at all."
Donovan contributed to Mix Diskerud's fifth-minute goal. He crossed the ball from the left flank, Altidore failed to connect and 21-year-old DeAndre Yedlin played the ball in front of the goal, where Diskerud scored from 12 yards.
He was supposed to play 30 minutes to conserve energy for the Galaxy's game at Dallas on Sunday but Klinsmann, hoping he would get a goal, kept him on longer.
"I think the goal was off-centered a little bit," Donovan joked. "Yeah, it would have been nice, but that's OK. Maybe it wasn't meant to be."
Ecuador gained the tie when Enner Valencia scored in the 88th minute with a shot from outside the penalty area that curled around defender Tim Ream and bounced in, seeming to get misjudged by goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
After the final whistle, Donovan hugged each of his teammates in the center of field, watched the video and took a slow lap around the field to David Bowie's "Heroes," dabbing his eyes with the sleeves of his sweat top. He embraced his mother, sister and girlfriend for a long period in front of the benches, then climbed in front of the stands behind a goal to lead fans in a chant of "I Believe That We Will Win!"
"A little out of character for me, but sometimes you've got to let go and enjoy it," Donovan said. "Those people, supporters clubs and American Outlaws, they're the blood of this team and this sport."
Donovan's appearances are second only to Cobi Jones' 164, and he set records for starts (142) and minutes (12,853). He called the night a bit surreal, saying he felt like an outsider when he watched the video.
"There's a lot of moments and memories," he said. "My life has been shaped through this sport, and I'm so blessed."
NOTES: Before the kickoff, Gulati presented Donovan with a collage of 19 U.S. jerseys from his career, framed with redwood, the state tree of Donovan's native California. The jerseys were mounted on an oak, the Connecticut state tree, and the names of Donovan's U.S. teammates were etched in the oak. ... MF Joe Gyau went down in the 15th minute with what the USSF said was a sprained left knee and was replaced by Bobby Wood. Gyau left the field on crutches. Gyau, 22, was making his second start for the U.S., as was D Greg Garza. ... Wood came in alone on Banguera in second-half stoppage time but crossed instead of shooting, and the ball was cleared.