(Carson, CA) — Perhaps Landon Donovan was resting up for this exact occasion, the MLS Cup Final, to finally raise his game back to the high standard that has been his trademark over an eleven year professional career. Perhaps the Los Angeles Galaxy forward was slowed down by injuries over the last few months of the MLS regular season, and was only now returning to full fitness. Perhaps he simply didn’t want to disappointment his teammates and the packed house of Galaxy supporters that filled The Home Depot Center above capacity. Whatever the reasons and circumstances that led up to Sunday night’s MLS championship performance from Donovan, the resume of the greatest soccer player ever produced in America just became that much more impressive.
“It’s a sense of elation,” shared an exhausted Donovan at the post game press conference. “It has been a long year, a trying year. I’ve got to say that there are times through it all you get tired and mentally worn down.”
The 29-year old forward — yes, he is still under 30 — had not lifted an MLS Cup since 2005, when his Galaxy upset the New England Revolution giving him three championships in his first five MLS seasons. However, this season has seen Donovan show the wear and tear of a player much older. Through most of September and October, he has not looked at the top of his game, and subsequently dropped off the leaderboard in the MLS regular season MVP race. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena acknowledged why during his candid post game comments.
“Landon’s been hurt over the last two or three months,” detailed Arena. “He started to get his legs back this week. This was important to Landon. I could see as we started to get in the middle of the week he was starting to get his old self back. He’s fitness and everything else. Landon’s a great player, and he knew this was an important game to set up his game tonight. I thought Landon played real well.”
The fact that Donovan would score the only goal of the match was fitting, for overall he has been the best player on the team this season, and did so much in the early months to stake the Galaxy a big lead in the Western Conference table. From the opening whistle, Donovan was a disrupting force on the right side of the field, where his interplay with forward Robbie Keane and midfielder David Beckham — the Galaxy’s trio of designated players — relentlessly wore down an overmatched Houston Dynamo side. For his 72nd minute MLS Cup winner, Donovan finished off a perfect through pass from Keane that all started with Beckham’s flicked on header.
“It was great that Landon was the MVP tonight,” gushed Beckham about the teammate he clashed with five years ago when he debuted in MLS. “He deserved to score that goal. It wouldn’t have mattered who scored it, but he scored it and it won us the match. We’re lucky to have a player like him; we’re lucky to have the players we got on our team because every one of them was exceptional this year. It’s been a good effort by everyone at this club.”
Not just a regular recipient of the MVP on his team, Donovan was voted the MVP of the championship match by the record number of media members covering the game. The match winning goal was the icing on the cake for Donovan on a night where his competitive spirit was lifted by the record Home Depot Center soccer crowd of over 30,000 that were overwhelming supporting the Galaxy.
“As an athlete, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment to be able to win a championship in your own stadium,” shared Donovan all the while smiling as he recalled the evening. “The atmosphere was fantastic tonight. The stadium was electric. And, to do it in your own stadium is really, really special. I’m going to remember this forever.”
With four career MLS Cup championships to his name, and now his second MLS Cup Final MVP trophy as well, Donovan will have no trouble ever remembering the role he played in securing the 2011 Galaxy’s title as arguably the best MLS team of all time.
(Photo courtesy of MLSsoccer.com)