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Landon's Last Stand: The Cup

Paolo Uggetti |
December 7, 2014 | 4:31 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The LA Galaxy celebrate their fifth MLS Cup (@DiarioDeportivo/Twitter_
The LA Galaxy celebrate their fifth MLS Cup (@DiarioDeportivo/Twitter_

The perfect script finally reached its perfect ending on Sunday afternoon, as the LA Galaxy’s 2-1 extra time win over the New England Revolution sent Landon Donovan riding off into the sunset of retirement with the MLS Cup perched atop his shoulders. 

In an eerie and now-habitual fashion, the result mirrored what the previous two encounters between these teams had given us, and the result once again told the story of the ill-fated losing battle that the Revolution has dealt with. 

Strike one came in 2002 when the Revolution fell to the Galaxy 1-0 thanks to an extra time winner that gave the Galaxy its first ever MLS Cup. 

Strike two came three years later in 2005, as the Revs experienced déja vu at the hands of yet another 1-0 extra time loss in the final. 

The third time was not the charm for the New Englanders. Despite owning the possession edge over the Galaxy throughout the match, the Galaxy struck them out and triumphed by one goal yet again, en route to their fifth MLS Cup. 

In an expected physical match between the second-best teams in their respective conferences, the Galaxy appeared poised to come out victorious given the home field advantage as well as the confidence they seemed to embody in the first half. 

Despite not finding the back of the net, the chances were aplenty for the Western Conference champions. From Donovan to MLS MVP Robbie Keane, to even defender Robbie Rogers, a goal or two advantage seemed to have just slipped from their grasp. 

But only seven minutes into the second half, it was the unlikely forward Gyazi Zardes who was able to come upon a ball and position perfectly past the New England goalkeeper to give the Galaxy an all-too familiar 1-0 lead. 

The Revolution tried fighting back on counterattacks, but the stalwart of the Galaxy defense, which had still not allowed a goal at home, kept them at bay. 

The result seemed prematurely inevitable, and given the chances the Galaxy had to extend their lead, the four-time champions seemed all in control, and Donovan could almost taste that coveted resolution to his career.  

But the missed chances were their eventual downfall, as a confused—and rare—defensive mistake by the Los Angeles center backs allowed New England defender Chris Tierney to push ahead unmarked and slot a perfect pass home to give the Revs the equalizer in the 82nd minute. 

So, it was extra time once again that would decide the championship between these two familiar foes, and this time it was Keane who finished the job for the Galaxy. 

Keane’s match had been an up and down one, as he missed a couple chances throughout, while also being unable to find Donovan on a couple of runs. 

“I don’t worry about missing chances,” he said. “I knew if I got a chance I would put it away.”

The Irishman came through in the end, however, when he blew past the New England defense, corralled a level ball from Zardes and redeemed himself in the biggest stage at the most crucial moment to put the Galaxy ahead for good. 

The scene at the StubHub Center after Robbie Keane's game-winning goal. (Jacob Freedman/Neon Tommy)
The scene at the StubHub Center after Robbie Keane's game-winning goal. (Jacob Freedman/Neon Tommy)

It took 120 minutes, but as the final whistle blew, the Stub Hub Center erupted and the players celebrated on the field combining exhaustion with ecstasy and the relieved realization that the Cup was indeed theirs. 

“It’s so mixed and wrapped up in different emotions,” Donovan said of the final moment. “More than anything it’s joy.” 

For the LA Galaxy it was their fifth MLS Cup—the most of any team in the league—an equally fitting ending to an amazing season, and for the New England Revolution it was yet another squandered opportunity to own their first. 

Keane’s goal provided him the deserved MVP award, but after the match it was all about Donovan, who though his presence on the pitch was not much of a factor, the winningest player in MLS history was now walking away in the best possible way. 

The 32-year-old California native may not be running on an empty tank physically, but emotionally, the proverbial face of MLS seemed relieved that the finish line had arrived at last, but overjoyed that it had concluded in this manner.  

"There's no experience like what just happened," Donovan said afterward. "I can't imagine anything can replace that in my life going forward."

To him, the Cup—his sixth—is the cherry on top of an already-successful career, but to the rest of the football world it is a deserving prize and going-away present for a man who paid his dues both to Galaxy and the US Men’s National Soccer Team alike. 

“He’s done it all,” Coach Bruce Arena said afterward. “He’s got very little left to give.”

As Donovan now perfectly parts, the MLS turns a legendary page and looks ahead to a bright future. In 2015, the league will expand to two more teams with various possibilities for many more in the near future. 

Furthermore, players all over the world are beginning to see the league as not only a viable option, but also a great one, and homegrown players are showing they have the talent to propel the league’s recognition to new heights. 

The changing landscape can be largely attributed and traced back to Donovan, whose popularity both at home and abroad has pushed this league into the forefront of discussion and vaulted it into substantial improvement. 

Now that it’s all over we will surely remember the records, the Cups, the Algeria goal, the Klinsmann debacle and this final, perfect run. We will remember what made Donovan such a likeable and relatable figure, but more importantly, what made him so important to soccer in America. 

From his quiet competitiveness to his subdued confidence, it is the inadvertent soccer exposure and explosion that Donovan incited in America that will shadow him in the long run. 

The consensus was clear: If anyone deserved the fairytale ending that sports rarely provides us with, it was Donovan. 

On Sunday, the soccer gods seemed to agree and thus, they willingly complied. 

Reach Staff Reporter Paolo Uggetti here or follow him on Twitter. 



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