Everything is in place for a Hollywood ending to Landon Donovan’s career.
Donovan and the LA Galaxy are playing for the MLS Cup title on their home field Sunday. League MVP Robbie Keane and his talented teammates are determined to send Donovan into early retirement with the franchise’s record fifth championship.
“If anyone deserves to go out on a high, it’s certainly Landon,” Keane said.
The only obstacles to this big finish are the New England Revolution, and Donovan realizes they’re a big problem.
After a late-season surge coinciding with the arrival of U.S. World Cup star Jermaine Jones, the Revs are rolling toward the first MLS Cup victory for one of the league’s original franchises. A week after ending Thierry Henry’s career in the Eastern Conference finals, they relish the chance to be spoilers on Donovan’s big day.
“Landon is an excellent player, a legend, and his legacy will certainly stand on its own,” New England coach Jay Heaps said. “We’re sticking to our process. All that other stuff is just noise.”
While Keane and Donovan lead MLS’ most productive offense, the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Rogers are the keys on the league’s stingiest defense. Lee Nguyen and the Revolution realize they’ve got a daunting task, but they also have ample momentum and arguably much less pressure on their shoulders.
“Our team has been through so much, and we’re almost complete,” said Nguyen, the MVP finalist in midfield. “This is our best chance to get the Cup.”
While Donovan radiates calm before his final game, he recognizes the symmetry in this finish. He hopes to follow in the triumphant footsteps of David Beckham, who won an MLS title at home in his final game in 2012.
“It’s different because this is it, regardless of the score or the outcome or whatever,” Donovan said. “I just want to play, and we want to win a championship, and after that I’ll think about the rest. But I gave myself a few days early in the week to really understand the finality of it, and now it’s a game.”
Here are some more things to watch when Donovan’s career and MLS’ 19th season end at StubHub Center:
OWNING THE CUP: The MLS finalists are owned by two of the most important figures in this still-fledgling league’s history. Robert Kraft has owned and steadily supported the Revolution since their inception, while Galaxy owner Phil Anschutz once owned more than half of MLS’ teams during the league’s lean years. “They’ve brought a lot to soccer that they don’t get a lot of credit for,” said Heaps, a former Revolution player. “This whole thing is here because of what they were able to do and maintain. The league in those meek years … there were a couple of owners that stepped up big, and the Kraft family was one of them, along with Mr. Anschutz as well.”
BRIDESMAIDS NO MORE?: New England lost four MLS Cup finals in six years during the middle of the last decade, but the Revs are determined to shake any stigma as the Buffalo Bills of U.S. soccer. History doesn’t interest Jones, who has no connection to New England’s past. “When I made my decision, I wished it would be like it is right now,” Jones said. “We can make it happen that New England has a trophy for the first time. I don’t like to lose one game.”
FAMILY BONDS: The Galaxy are among the most cohesive teams Bruce Arena has ever coached, and their bond was strengthened by tragedy this season. The players and staff rallied around defender A.J. De La Garza and his wife, Megan, when they lost their newborn son, Luca, to a congenital heart defect in late August. “We have a family here, and we always stick together,” Keane said.
HOMECOMING GAME: Although Jones ended up in New England thanks to a blind draw when he agreed to an MLS move, the German-born-and-raised veteran has lived in nearby Encino, California, for the past four years with his wife and their five children. The couple hosted a dinner recently for several of his Revolution teammates at their house, which was once owned by actress Tori Spelling. Jones signed an 18-month contract with the Revolution, getting more than $4 million to join MLS.
GALAXY WISDOM: While New England has no MLS titles, the Galaxy have several players with multiple MLS Cup victories in their recent history. “I think we have advantages in that we’ve done this before, and we kind of know the routine,” said Arena, who is seeking his fifth title. “We have experienced players. We have great leadership on the team. We understand what it’s about.”