For Landon Donovan the stage is set for a dream finale. In his last ever match as a professional, the star forward’s LA Galaxy side are hosts and favorites for MLS Cup final on Sunday when they’ll take on the New England Revolution at StubHub Center. The script is perfect. Perhaps a little too perfect.
Just as the width of a post cruelly denied Donovan a send-off goal from the U.S. national team in October, the red-hot New England Revolution will be determined to ensure that the final act in the 15-year career of the finest player in American history becomes more of a nightmare than a fairytale. For those arriving from New England, there is ample respect for a player who has been so pivotal in the development of U.S. soccer and its still maturing league, but a burning desire to deliver one of Major League Soccer’s founding teams a long-sought first championship.
“I have respect for these guys,” New England’s Jermaine Jones said, according to MLSSoccer.com. “Donovan, he does a lot for U.S. soccer and MLS. He wins already a lot of cups, he got four or five. Me and my team, we want one, and we will do everything to get it.”
If New England is to get it, then Jones will surely be key, just as he has been in providing the four-time losing MLS Cup finalists with another chance for glory. Since Jones, one of the standout players as the United States reached the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup, arrived at the Revs in August they h teamave gone 12-1-1. The influence of the all-action former Schalke and Besiktas midfielder helped his new to finish second in the Eastern Conference standings, before blasting their way past Columbus Crew in the first round of the playoffs and edging a tight Conference Championship series with the New York Red Bulls.
But Jay Heaps’ men are far from a one-man team. Attacking midfielder Lee Nguyen was an MVP finalist on the back of 18 goals and five assists, while striker Charlie Davies has hit four goals in the playoffs.
Still, if the Revs are to make it fifth time lucky on Sunday they will have to get past, not only the team that beat them in MLS Cup finals in 2002 and 2005, but the most successful club in the league’s history. Indeed, as well as trying to honor’s Donovan’s farewell, the Galaxy will be going for a record fifth MLS Cup.
It is not just LA’s pedigree New England will be going up against, but a team full of star names. Donovan will, of course be center of attention, and, while he may be bowing out, he is far from a faded force. In the 2014 season, the 32-year-old contributed a league-high 19 assists on top of his 10 goals. With Robbie Keane, he formed MLS’s most devastating attacking partnership. The top scorer in the history of the Republic of Ireland team, Keane beat Nguyen to the MVP honor thanks to his 19 goals and 14 assists.
“To be in the running the last few years, it just goes to show how consistent I have been, you know?” Keane said after behind handed the award earlier this week. “To win it, it's actually great to be recognized by your fellow professionals and the media. I'm delighted with the award, but I'd certainly trade it in for a championship on Sunday.”
If Donovan and Keane weren’t frightening enough, lauded Galaxy coach Bruce Arena can also call upon one of the league’s rising stars, 23-year-old academy product Gyasi Zardes. While the forwards garner the headlines, the team also has plenty of quality elsewhere. Defender Omar Gonzalez started for the U.S. team at the World Cup, while Brazilian duo Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas dictate the tempo in midfield. The pair also came up with a goal each in the Western Conference Championship series to lead the Galaxy past Supporters’ Shield winners the Seattle Sounders, on away goals. Just as they did for David Beckham in 2012, all in Galaxy's colors will be striving to ensure that Donovan gets his Hollywood ending.
Prediction: The Galaxy had to come from behind to beat the Houston Dynamo to win the trophy in Beckham’s final MLS outing two years ago and it could be a similarly tense contest in Carson, Calif. this time around. Jones appears on a mission to land MLS Cup in his first season and the veteran is capable of dominating midfield as well as popping up with a decisive contribution on offense. And, as he showed against the Red Bulls, even if barely involved for much of the contest, Nguyen can pop up with a telling contribution in and around the penalty area.
But if it’s a tight game then the greater attacking quality of the Galaxy could be the difference. Keane, Zardes and Donovan together may well be too much to handle for a New England team that has failed to keep a single shutout in the playoffs.
When: Sunday, 3 p.m. EST
Where: StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
Betting Odds: Galaxy favored 5/11
Predicted Score: Galaxy over Revolution, 2-1