Photo by Carl Wagenfohr
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard (on his back) makes a save on Ecuador's Carlos Tenorio (21) with help from defender Jimmy Conrad (12), preserving a 1-1 tie
TAMPA -- The U.S. Men's National Team defeated Ecuador, 3-1, in front of a record crowd at Raymond James Stadium. Landon Donovan provided all of the offense, netting his second career hat trick to help the U.S. pull away from Ecuador in the second half.
Donovan opened the scoring just 35 seconds into the game, unleashing a left-footed shot from 22 yards following a poor clearance attempt. After settling the ball with his chest, Donovan crushed his effort past helpless Ecuador goalkeeper Rorys Aragon, who could only watch as the ball screamed into the right side netting.
Ecuador would respond 10 minutes later however, when Felipe Caicedo's nifty dribbling eluded a handful of U.S. defenders inside the box, freeing him for a one-on-one with U.S. 'keeper Tim Howard. While Howard managed to get a piece of Caicedo's final touch, it wasn't enough to keep it out of the net, allowing Ecuador to squelch the USA's early momentum.
Ecuador also created a handful of dangerous chances midway through the opening stanza. In the 21st minute, Carlos Tenorio broke in behind the U.S. defense with only Howard to beat, but the Everton goalkeeper got down in a hurry, smothering the ball at the top of the six.
U.S. captain Landon Donovan scored the winning goal in the 66th minute when forward Brian Ching placed a through ball from midfield. Donovan pulled away from his defender, juked Ecuador keeper Aragon inside the 18 and coolly deposited his shot into the left side netting.
Less than a minute later, Donovan would add a resounding exclamation point. As midfielder DaMarcus Beasley cut back across the top the box, he slid a perfectly weighted ball to an on-rushing Donovan who unleashed a thundering blast from 22 yards that rocketed into the upper right corner. The goal extended the U.S. lead to 3-1, and marked Donovan's second career hat trick.
US Soccer left Raymond James stadium with two wins, as the Under-17 National Team defeated El Salvador 2-0 in the opening game of the doubleheader.
A crowd of 31,547, a record for a U.S. friendly in Florida, enjoyed the perfect weather and excitement of U.S National Team play. Many wore the colors of the defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny, the Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise that was folded in 2001 largely because the Galzer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, held a lease on Raymond James Stadium that prevented the Mutiny from becoming profitable.
Local fan interest in professional soccer is high, as demonstrated by the crowd at Sunday's U.S.-Ecuador match. Former Mutiny COO Ed Austin, attending the match as a spectator, said that Sunday's attendance would get the attention of MLS, but any return of professional soccer to the bay area would first require the construction of a soccer-specific stadium.