Donovan’s Hat Trick Leads U.S. Past Ecuador, 3-1, in Tampa, Fla.

Donovan’s Hat Trick Leads U.S. Past Ecuador, 3-1, in Tampa, Fla.

TAMPA, Fla. - 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.

“We’re certainly pleased with the outcome,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley, who became the first head coach in U.S. Soccer history to win his first three games. “I thought it was an exciting game, highlighted of course by a great performance by Landon. Throughout this camp, you could tell that he had really stepped things up in terms of his role on the team. He was our captain today; more than that, he really came through with the goals and good movement off the ball, which is something that he does really well. [MORE POST-GAME QUOTES]

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.

The U.S. had a number of chances to reclaim the lead, many resulting from set pieces. In the 14th minute, Benny Feilhaber, who earned his first career cap and start, drew a foul from 35 yards out. The ensuing free kick, intended for a crashing Oguchi Onyewu at the far post, forced a brave one-handed save from Aragon.

Just a minute later, Feilhaber nearly got on the score sheet when he played a corner kick back into the area finding an unmarked Eddie Johnson. As the Ecuador backline appealed for offside, the former U-17 Residency product wheeled and fired just high from 12 yards out.

Ecuador also created a handful of dangerous chances midway through the opening stanza. In the 21st minute, 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.

In the 28th minute, Caicedo found himself free momentarily at the right corner of the six yard box as the U.S. defense scrambled to find its marks. As the ball settled at his feet, Jimmy Conrad arrived with a crunching tackle, deflecting the shot and leaving Caicedo writhing on the turf. On the ensuing corner, Ulises de la Cruz skied to win a header, but a perfectly positioned Feilhaber headed the ball off the line at the near post.

“Ecuador, as we know from last summer, is a very talented team,” said Bradley. “I thought that there was a period in the first half that we didn’t handle that well.”

The U.S. would respond with a flurry near the end of the first half as Brian Ching began to make his presence felt. The Hawaiin-born forward got on the end of a header from Onyewu inside the area, but his diving header fell right in Aragon’s arms. On the play, Ching appeared to take a nasty boot to the face which required immediate attention from the U.S. medical staff.

With some gauze in his nose, a fresh jersey and the roaring approval of the crowd, Ching returned to the field and nearly helped the U.S. regain the lead in the dying moments of the half. After Dempsey played a through-ball into the area, Ching sent a driven cross toward the far post that eluded a sprawling Beasley by mere inches.

The USA carried the momentum of that late surge through to the second half, creating numerous chances. First, a diving save from Aragon denied Donovan as he charged into the area off a feed from Ching. Moments later, Clint Dempsey couldn’t quite get on the end of a deflected corner, sending a weak shot toward a near-empty goal that a defender managed to clear.

The Ching-to-Donovan connection would finally pay dividends in the 66th minute when the Dynamo forward sprung Donovan from midfield. The U.S. captain pulled away from his defender, juked 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 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 (July 19, 2003 vs. Cuba – 4 goals) and the 10th in U.S. Soccer history. The USA’s last three-goal performance came just over a year ago when Taylor Twellman led the U.S. past Norway, 5-1, in Carson, Calif.

As the crowd of 31,547, a record for a U.S. friendly in Florida, soaked in the moment, Ecuador continued to attack. Giovanny Espinoza sent a glancing header from 12 yards just over the bar in the 87th minute, and a free kick snuck through a crowd forcing Howard to make a reaction save in stoppage time.

Following the match, Bradley released four players back to their respective clubs. Carlos Bocanegra, Howard and Onyewu are heading back to England, while Brian Carroll will join D.C. United in Guadalajara as they prepare for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals against Chivas.

The U.S. departs Monday for Frisco, Texas, to prepare for their showdown against Guatemala (tickets) on March 28 at Pizza Hut Park. Kickoff for the USA’s second meeting in as many years with the chapines is set for 8 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and Galavision, and will be available to fans online via’s MatchTracker.

The USA’s back-to-back matches this week during the FIFA schedule window are the last chance for Bradley to look at his team prior to the team’s June 2 match vs. China (tickets) in San Jose, Calif., which kicks off the USA’s preparations for this summer’s marquee events, the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the 2007 Copa America.

– U.S. Men’s National Team Game Report –

Match-up: USA vs. Ecuador
Date: March 25, 2007
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Fla.
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET
Attendance: 31,547
Weather: Clear and sunny, 82 degrees

Scoring Summary:
1 2 F
USA 1 2 3
Ecuador 1 0 1

Sierra Mist Man of the Match: Landon Donovan