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Robbie Keane's Experience Propels LA Galaxy Into MLS Cup 2012

Omar Shamout |
November 19, 2012 | 12:41 a.m. PST

Senior Sports Reporter

The Irish strike looks on. (Soccer.RU/Creative Commons)
The Irish strike looks on. (Soccer.RU/Creative Commons)
The LA Galaxy have advanced to the 2012 MLS Cup final after defeating Seattle, 4-2, over two legs in the MLS Western Conference finals. 

That’s despite a 2-1 loss to the Sounders on Sunday at Qwest Field.

They will face the Houston Dynamo, who tied D.C. United, 1-1, on Sunday, but also advanced with an aggregate score of 4-2.

After his team’s 3-0 win over Seattle last week at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena was asked why lower seeds were having so much success in this year’s playoffs.

He responded with his usual sardonic wit. 

“I’ll go back in the lab and try to figure it out.”

Now that the fourth-seeded teams in each conference have advanced to the MLS Cup on Dec. 1, the question deserves a bit of inquiry.

After all, sports pundits have long posited that whichever team plays at home in the second leg of a two-game series has an advantage because they know exactly what’s required to move on. 

The MLS seems to have bought into this logic. The carrot it dangles in front of clubs during the regular season is that higher seeds get to play on home turf in the second-leg during each round of the playoffs.

Reality has run counter to logic in the 2012 playoffs. 

Home teams have a combined record of 6-5-3. But, the lower seed has advanced in six out of eight playoff rounds.

Both conference champions won crucial matches on the road during this post-season campaign.

LA mounted a comeback victory against San Jose in the conference semifinals, winning, 3-1, on the road after losing the first leg at home, 1-0.

Houston, meanwhile, beat Chicago, 2-1, in the eastern-conference knockout game at Toyota Park.

Why all the upset victories? 

Experience is a good place to start. Houston will be playing in its fourth MLS Cup in seven years. 

Two players remain from the Dynamo roster that started the 1996 final: midfielder Brad Davis, who tallied eight goals and 11 assists this season, and forward Brian Ching, who contributed five goals and four assists.

The experience in the Dynamo organization isn’t limited to the field of play. Dominic Kinnear will be coaching in his fourth MLS Cup for Houston.

Before the start of this year’s playoffs, Kinnear said the post-season experience on his roster would be a benefit.

“It helps in the run-up to the game, and in your preparation, since you have done it a couple times before it is not completely new,” Kinnear told HoustonDynamo.com. “There are certain situations in the game where you might not get as nervous or panicky.”

Arena is no stranger to the playoffs either.

This year will mark his sixth MLS Cup as a coach, two more than his nearest challengers. He has won three titles, two with D.C. United and one with the Galaxy.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy’s veteran leaders are spearheading the team’s playoff surge.

Landon Donovan, Mike Magee and Robbie Keane are leading a front line finding its groove at exactly the right time. The forward trio has nine goals in five games for LA.

Keane, 32, has just over a year of MLS experience, but his 11 seasons in England’s Premier League and 10 years as an Ireland international are paying dividends.

Five of the striker’s 20 goals in 2012 have come in the playoffs.

His savvy decision-making was crucial in Sunday’s series clincher against Seattle. After receiving a pass from Magee in the 67th minute, Keane found himself on the far left of the Seattle penalty area with four Sounders players between him and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.

Instead of taking a low-percentage shot, or attempting a difficult cross to Edson Buddle, Keane made the smart decision to lead defender Adam Johansson toward the end line and play for a corner kick.

This tactic put Johansson in a vulnerable position. 

Because Keane waited to cross the ball, Johansson couldn’t risk letting Keane’s cross go unblocked. Johansson had no way of knowing if any Galaxy players had stormed into the penalty area behind him.

A more inexperienced player in Keane’s position might easily have rushed an ill-advised shot.

Instead, Keane completely changed the momentum of a game Seattle was dominating at 2-0. Needing only one more goal to even the series on aggregate, the Sounders were controlling posession, as they had been throughout.

The Galaxy’s counter attack and passing game were sputtering, but Keane found a way to manufacture a penalty kick.

What was that quote from Kinnear again about experienced players?

“There are certain situations in the game where you might not get as nervous or panicky.”

Maybe Kinnear has been spending more time in the “lab” than Arena. 

Either way, he’ll have to concoct something special to stop the red-hot Keane if he hopes to avoid a repeat of last year’s MLS Cup final, which the Galaxy won, 1-0.


Reach Senior Sports Reporter Omar Shamout via email or follow him on Twitter.



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