This Sunday two things limped into the StubHub Center: the Philadelphia Union and the pride of Landon Donovan. Coming to Los Angeles, the Union was looking to wash the stale taste this season has left in their mouth so far – especially after a 5-3 loss to New England the week before. For Los Angeles, the Union was only a footnote in the week’s events. Sunday saw the return of Landon Donovan after being left out of the United States Men’s National Team World Cup roster. Everyone in Galaxyland knew something special was about to happen in this match – the team showed massive signs of improvement in a midweek 2-1 victory over FC Dallas and Donovan approached this game with the potential of breaking the MLS all-time goal scoring record with what would be his 135th league goal. Jürgen Klinsmann may have angered many USMNT fans but he did a favor for LA Galaxy faithful by giving the face of US Soccer a reason to make a statement on the field with his club.
SOMETHING TO PROVE
It didn’t take long for Donovan to remind us why he should be going to Brazil. In the second minute of the match, the Galaxy found itself with a free kick on the right side of Philadelphia’s goals. Donovan floated the ball into the box and easily found the head of Leonardo who placed the ball in the back of the net in textbook fashion. The Donovan-to-Brazilian connection here was a poetic and almost ironic way to kick off this historic game. Early in the game, Donovan reminded us that he is here to play talented soccer and what was about to unfold can almost make any MLS fan pity the Union for being the unfortunate team to face Captain America after being snubbed from the USMNT. Just ten minutes after the first goal, the LA Galaxy almost grabbed another goal from a brilliant chip by Robbie Keane that went over Union keeper Zac MacMath and hit the post. Here, things started to look very bad for Philadelphia. Despite showing some offensive capabilities towards the end of the half, the Los Angeles Galaxy defense played very impressively and held the Union off until the whistle.
“I don’t think we played well in the first half. Second half we played better, but it was a good performance. Philadelphia played us real hard. To get that second goal early in the second half was important. It broke their back a little bit. Second half we played a very good 30 to 35 minutes.”
—Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy GM/Head Coach
With the second half the Union seemed to forget how to play professional soccer and the LA Galaxy was allowed to control nearly every remaining minute of the match. In the 48th minute, Kenney Walker won possession of the ball and passed it to Landon Donovan and a record was set into motion. Donovan gave the ball to Keane who brilliantly took it into the right side of the box. Instead of attempting to score himself, Keane executed a brilliant cut and found Landon Donovan waiting in front of a wide-open goal. And there it was – Donovan completed his statement by becoming the greatest goal-scorer in the history of Major League Soccer. Are you watching, Klinsmann? But, it would be a disservice to Keane’s brilliant play to not mention how instrumental he was to the goal. Keane’s pass was so perfect and Donovan’s positioning was so spot on that it is no wonder these two are one of the most feared parings in all of MLS.
“First of all, this is my job. This is what I get paid to do. Like I said yesterday, my teammates depend on me. I think I’ve played well this year, but I needed to contribute on the scoreboard. It felt good. A lot of relief in some ways, a lot of joy.”
—Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy Striker/Midfielder
THE UNION FALLS
The stadium shook with Donovan’s record goal and the Philadelphia Union had to know things were about to get even worse for them. Just minutes after number 135 Juninho took an ambitious shot from right outside the box that hit MacMath with such force that he could not hold onto the ball and Keane nearly scored from the fumble. Then, in the 63rd minute, Sheanon Williams failed to clear the ball under pressure from Keane who effortlessly took it straight to goal and sent it through the legs of Philly’s keeper and into the net – the route was on. Robbie Keane was almost gifted a second goal just two minutes later by an absurdly bad pass by the Union’s Conor Casey who looked more like he was trying to give the Irishman an assist. Unfortunately, Keane’s resulting attempt on goal went just wide of the post. In the 80th minute, Donovan drove his point home by scoring off of a brilliant run of play with Robbie Keane. Once again, the duo caught the Philadelphia defense out of position and Keane found a wide-open Donovan right in front of goal. After nine games with no goals, Landon Donovan found two in just 80 minutes and was subbed out of the match to a standing ovation from the StubHub Center crowd. Say it with me: “Oh, Landon Donovan!” If the Union was going to score anything by this point, it would be by an LA Galaxy mistake – and that’s exactly what happened. In the 87th minute, Raul Mendiola reminded fans that he is still very inexperienced at the professional level by plowing into Zach Pfeffer inside the penalty box. The Union was gifted a goal after a pathetic performance.
A COMPLETE PERFORMANCE
I would argue that for the first time this season the Los Angeles Galaxy showed a complete performance on the field. Sure, the Union is in shambles and is playing a very bad version of soccer but we can’t overlook the overarching storyline happening in the Galaxy right now. Without Omar Gonzalez, the defense played a nearly perfect game. Leonardo, while still deserving of skepticism, should be praised for opening the scoring and leading the defense in its strong performance. Robbie Keane played so aggressively well that it was nearly impossible to see just how much he wanted to win and propel the team to victory along with the fire that was lit underneath Landon Donovan this week. Keane clearly has a passion for this team and he is capitalizing on the momentum offered by Donovan’s snub. Finally, Landon Donovan gave a clear statement that he intends to show the international soccer community that he was wronged. Landon Donovan will be scoring goals during the World Cup – they just won’t be in Brazil.
This team just opened a new chapter of this season. Galaxy fans, be excited. MLS fans, be afraid.