“Not even Hollywood could have come up with a better script,” Mariano Trujillo, current Fox Deportes soccer analyst and one-time Chivas USA player, said about American legend Landon Donovan getting the opportunity to end his career with a championship.
“He wants the fairy tale ending,” MLSsoccer.com associate editor Diego Pinzón told Fox News Latino. “He really wants his career to end with him lifting the trophy.”
The MLS season concludes Sunday, starting at 3 p.m. Eastern time, when Donovan’s Los Angeles Galaxy take on the New England Revolution at the StubHub Center in Carson City, California.
Donovan, widely acknowledged to be the best male player to ever put on the U.S. national team uniform, has already played in six MLS Cups. His record in those matches is 5-1. (Two of the wins came with the San Jose Earthquake, the rest of the games were with the Galaxy.)
Which means that, almost without question, the 32-year-old forward who in August announced his retirement at the end of the 2014 season, is also exiting as the greatest American to ever play in the MLS.
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The Galaxy are the New York Yankees of the MLS, having reached the championship game 9 out of 19 seasons now. They have won the Cup four times, including back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
During the regular season this year, the team led the league in goals scored (69 in 34 games) and in goal differential at +32.
The Revolution, on the other hand, are more like the Buffalo Bills, having reached four title games and lost all of them. This season, they were tied for ninth in the league in goal differential with a modest +5.
The turning point in the Revs' season came in late August, when national team standout Jermaine Jones, who had been playing for Besiktas in Turkey, joined the squad. At that point, New England was a sub-.500 team, but the presence of the defensive-minded Jones in the midfield, Trujillo told FNL, “was exactly the piece that this team needed.”
In 10 matches with Jones, the team closed out the regular season with a 8-1-1 stretch drive.
Pinzón said, “It shows that one player really can make a difference.”
Both analysts expect a competitive match on Sunday. “The Galaxy may have been the best offensive team in the league, but the Revolution have been very organized on defense,” Trujillo told FNL. “The Galaxy struggled to get past Real Salt Lake. Robbie Keane isn’t in top form, and Landon Donovan hasn’t been so sharp. He’s been playing on the left side, where he can get a little lost sometimes.”
As far as Pinzón is concerned, “The team that gets the jump on the wings will take the match. And playing there is a perfect position for Donovan at this point in his career—it allows for really good counterattack opportunities.”
The two teams faced off during the 2002 Cup final, with the Galaxy winning 1-0 in overtime. Only one person on the pitch that day will be involved in this year’s game: Revs coach Jay Heaps, who was a defensive back for New England.
“Heaps is one of a handful of people who played their whole careers in MLS who are now coaching in the league,” Pinzón pointed out. “He’s the first to get to the final.”
While revenge may be a motivation for Heaps, it’s hard to argue against the Galaxy’s pedigree. Its head coach, Bruce Arena, is going for his fifth MLS championship ring, and, at age 63, the conversation about being the best coach in league history has already begun.
“I saw it first-hand with Bruce when I played at Chivas,” Trujillo said. “The great teams, the great players and coaches always seem to find a way to win.”
As for life after Landon, it seems likely that the Galaxy will try to make a splashy signing to fill one of their two Designated Player slots.
“They are the premier franchise in the league,” Trujillo told FNL. “They need somebody like Donovan or [David] Beckham—a player of that category.”
Trujillo believes the aging Brazilian great Ronaldinho, who is now playing for Querétaro in the Liga MX, may be a good fit.
According to Pinzón, 35-year-old Italian playmaker Andrea Pirlo was reportedly on the team's radar. “Arena was asked about that, and he didn’t confirm it,” he said. “But he never denied it. And they will go after a star.”
With the departure of Red Bulls’ superb forward, Thierry Henry, it isn't just the Galaxy that needs a big name, somebody, as Trujillo put it, “who doesn’t just bring the spectacular to the field of play but who can also be a magnet for the rest of the world’s attention.”