MLS Cup: Donovan returns to form with MVP performance

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 Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com

By THOMAS FLOYD

CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan, it would appear, has a knack for timing.

While struggling with various ailments, including a particularly troublesome quadriceps strain, the Los Angeles Galaxy captain notched just one goal and one assist in the regular season after the end of July. Although he scored in two straight playoff matches heading into the MLS Cup against Houston, both tallies came via the penalty spot.

But when Donovan took the Home Depot Center field Sunday, the spring was back in his step — restored largely thanks to a two-week layoff since the Western Conference final. After threatening the Dynamo's back line throughout the contest, he found the match's lone goal with a superb strike in the 72nd minute.

Come game's end, Donovan was accepting the contest's Most Valuable Player honors and lifting the Philip F. Anschutz trophy. When it mattered most, he rounded into form.

"Landon's been hurt over the last two or three months," Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena said. "He started to get his legs back a little bit this week. This was important to Landon. I could see as we got to the middle of the week he was starting to get a little bit of his old flair back, his fitness and everything else."

That was bad news for Houston.

After Galaxy striker Robbie Keane collected a flick-on header from David Beckham and brushed off a challenge from Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell, the Ireland international looked up and touched a pass to a streaking Donovan.

With goalkeeper Tally Hall closing the angle, Donovan chipped a shot that deflected off Hall's hand and trickled into the far-side netting. The 1-0 lead would be all Los Angeles needed.

"Landon made a good run," Keane said. "When you're playing with good players, it makes your job a lot easier."

Added Beckham: "He deserves to score that goal."

Fifteen minutes prior, Arena made the move that set the stage for Donovan's dramatic tally. With Adam Cristman struggling up top, Arena replaced the bruising striker with midfielder Chris Birchall and pushed Donovan into a withdrawn forward role.

Donovan had shown a remarkable understanding with Keane when the two were partnered late in the Galaxy's 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final, and that chemistry was on full display again Sunday.

"When I get there, my sole purpose is to be as aggressive as possible and to make good runs," Donovan said. "People, justifiably so, see Robbie as a great goal-scorer, but he's a great soccer player. The pass he gave me for the goal was fantastic — absolutely world class."

With the triumph, Donovan followed in the footsteps of Dwayne De Rosario to become the second player to twice win MLS Cup MVP honors. The league title was the fourth of his distinguished career, but his first since 2005.

"It's tough to say right now, but I'm happy for him," said Houston forward Brian Ching, who won the 2003 MLS Cup with Donovan in San Jose. "He always steps up in big moments."

Donovan's performance was the kind of outing the U.S. national team could have used during its friendly loss at France earlier this month. The 29-year-old, however, withdrew from the roster for that match because, as Arena put it, "He would not have been able to get on a plane and go to Europe and play. He needed the time off."

"This has been a long year, a trying year," Donovan acknowledged. "There are times where you get tired and mentally you wear down."

Against Houston, though, Donovan looked as sharp as ever. Before shifting up top, he terrorized Dynamo left back Jermaine Taylor with his on-the-ball pace, forming a dynamic partnership with overlapping right back Sean Franklin.

The hobbled, fatigued Donovan of late was nowhere to be found. The Donovan who has built a reputation as one of the most prolific attackers in the history of MLS and U.S. Soccer had re-emerged.

"Everyone has been talking about how he's been kind of quiet and stuff like that," Franklin said. "But he stepped up big tonight."

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34 Responses to MLS Cup: Donovan returns to form with MVP performance

  1. SMErickson7 says:

    Did you even watch the game? Donovan was barely visible. I would say he came up big when it mattered (which is what any forward should do) but to say he “returns to form with an MVP performance” is simply not true.

  2. Michael F says:

    SME-he scored the only goal. And a great one at that. Should he not be the MVP? if not, then who?

  3. Jon says:

    Wow besides winning the game for his team, what would constitute “visible”? More of the Donovan double standard being applied. He has to both win games and “look good” to his haters.

  4. RMotzkin says:

    SME-Are you blind? “Donovan looked as sharp as ever. Before shifting up top, he terrorized Dynamo left back Jermaine Taylor with his on-the-ball pace, forming a dynamic partnership with overlapping right back Sean Franklin.” is absolutely true!

  5. RMotzkin says:

    SME-Are you blind? “Donovan looked as sharp as ever. Before shifting up top, he terrorized Dynamo left back Jermaine Taylor with his on-the-ball pace, forming a dynamic partnership with overlapping right back Sean Franklin.” is absolutely true!

  6. Ken says:

    There are rumors that a loan to Everton is being discussed (not a surprise). I hope he goes, nothing left for him in the MLS except to win the CCL.

  7. Just Sayin'... says:

    Why would he leave the highest spending club in MLS that is loaded, primed for a repeat, in his home country, within the great state of California, when he’s already a lock for national team call-ups

    and trade that for

    one of the lowest spending clubs that is bare, primed for relegation battle, in a foreign country, within the dreary conditions of jolly ol’ England, when he doesn’t need to prove anything in a “higher league” for a call-up?

    For the record, that was mostly hyperbole and sarcasm but it IS Landon Donovan we’re talking about. Dude is just different. I think a move to Everton, especially if it’s just a loan, is a slim probability.

    From all accounts I continue to read about him being “beat up, injured and not having his legs”, I could see him taking the time off.

  8. Khan says:

    Disappointing.

    I thought both Keane and Beckham put in better performances. Donovan may have scored a goal, which was set up by a very nice build up by Keane, but he was largely invisible in the match and was dispossess often.

  9. Annelid Gustator says:

    Like Khan I thought Beckham and Keane were both more deserving of MVP award (not that winning the thing with a good run and goal is chopped liver!). Beckham really converted me this season–now I not only consider him a fantastic player, but one who really cares about his team’s success. Keane is really just a balls-out mofo. Fullspeed Robbie! All day!

  10. drew says:

    I thoughts Becks was the best player on the field last night, but I guess you can’t argue too too much about Donovan getting MVP after getting the winning goal. That said, the article seems a little over the top. Donovan seemed to be up to his old tricks of disappearing for long stretches at a time.

  11. QueenCity says:

    I thought Donovan and Keane were deserving. I thought Beckham was active as usual but his touch seemed a little off.

    I don’t think anybody can really complain with the choice of Donovan, he played well and scored the goal.

  12. Ken says:

    No one said he has prove anything, but any pro athlete would want to play at the highest level. I believe that LD feels the same way. A loan in Mid January will be after he had a month off to rest.

  13. Kosh says:

    I’m not sure hat is going to work for Klinsi, who i don’t think was kidding when he said he wanted our guys to train more in the off season. For a guy who butt heads with the Bayern elite, i don’t think he would think twice about proving his point with Donovan – regardless of what we think he is entitled to…but I could be wrong.

    Back on point – congrats to Donovan for a true MVP performance and to LAG for a wonderful year. I am a DCU fan and hope we can get 5 before they get 4 but they deserve all the credit for wanting it and going out and getting it all. Good luck to them in the CCL. I hope they can put MLS further on the map there too.

    As far as disappearing in games that’s an easy cop out argument for many. Donovan did the business with the ball and did all the wonderful little things that great players do without it. Soon, when more people learn how to watch the game better, we will start to appreciate this. I think this is where TV hurts soccer because TV is about the ball while as the beautiful game is equally about what is happening in the places without it.

    Congrats LA! Vamos UNITED!!

  14. T says:

    keane desrved it, he was everywhere.

  15. hogatroge says:

    Well, I partially agree with you. He was invisible most of the game, but he was in the right place when it counted and was the only Galaxy player (barring the dubious offsides on Keane) to break the Dynamo defense successfully.

    Still, I think Beckham should have gotten the award for bossing the midfield all game.

  16. Rory says:

    I noticed the MVP award curse is alive and well, what with the old guy presenting the trophey to “Landon Donan”… I guess somewhere Casey Coner is laughing.

  17. hogatroge says:

    I agree. All of Donovan’s “terrorizing” of Jermaine Taylor amounted to very little. His run was brilliant on the goal, but Beckham was brilliant all night. LD was otherwise a ghost.

    I hope this isn’t indicative of things to come for the USMNT.

  18. Just Sayin'... says:

    you haven’t paid attention to his attitude, comments or journey if you think the status quo applies to Landon, Ken.

  19. Just Sayin'... says:

    you mean like when he refused the most recent call up?

    yea, he wouldn’t challenge Klinsmann.

  20. Neruda says:

    I missed the game but good news to hear LD has returned to form. Most fans of the game in the US really only care about USMNT and I hope LD performs for country too.

    BTW if beckham leaves galaxy won’t win any hardware next year. If beckham and Donovan leave then gals are in big trouble. They may already have replacement DPs lined up but it will take at least half a season for new (old) players to adjust.

  21. go usa says:

    Pablo,

    LD IS and HAS BEEN the USMNT for years. He holds EVERY scoring and assist record and works harder than anyone on the field most games.

    What fans expect from him is beyond comprehension.

    Thanks for your expert analysis on LA’s DPs.

    Who “misses” the MLS Cup final?

  22. alocksley says:

    Donovan was sharp all night. These “disappeared” and “invisible” comments are baffling. He was making runs, defending hard, combining well with other attackers, and took his goal brilliantly. An MVP performance, certainly.

  23. We need a soccer stadium :-(

  24. Andrew says:

    Looking at the replay, Donovan’s goal is even more impressive than it looked from a distance. It was obviously a great run and a great ball from Keane, but even after that it was not by any means an easy shot. Donovan was shooting from a sharp angle and had to shoot on his first touch with Boswell bearing down on him, Hall made himself big, and so the only option was an outside-of-foot shot curled into the far post.

    90% of the forwards in MLS would not have scored even if they were put in that exact position.

  25. beachbum says:

    invisible? go rewatch.

    anyway, congrats to Landon, outside of the left foot off great run from sweet Robbie service

    he played well on the flank too

  26. beachbum says:

    yes it was, looked like he was going to strike it right footed too, instead the cheeky little left footed touch for the Cup baby!!!

  27. go usa says:

    Keane worked hard and was very good too. I think his performance was close to Donovan’s.

    My main concern with Keane is his body language whenever he doesn’t receive the exact pass he desires. The flailing gestures and complaining must get old for teammates.

    But in his defense, Keane makes a lot of very good unrewarded runs.

  28. abc says:

    It seems like no matter what Donovan does, some people will say he was largely invisible.

    First half: he and Franklin abused the left side of the Dynamo defense repeatedly.

    Second half: he and Keane had quite a few moments where they caused serious trouble, aside from the goal.

  29. Gnarls says:

    I have to agree. Without Keane making runs and the game-winning assist, LA mightn’t have pressured Houston the way they did. AND Keane essentially played double duty since Cristman did everything in his power to hand the game to the Dynamo.

  30. Magee says:

    +1, Everton blows

  31. alocksley says:

    You could tell from the opening whistle that Donovan had that old familiar jump back in his step – that burst. It was good to see.

    I had been worried he might be on his inevitable downward slide, but I guess you have to chalk the last few months up to injuries and lack of fitness.

  32. drew says:

    You are correct, Landon has been great for the USMNT for years, but I don’t think he has been the hardest working player. It is hard to argue with the fact that he tends to disappear from games from time to time. For all he has accomplished, I think he has potentially even more to give.

  33. Lil' Zeke says:

    I found Donovan utterly visible the whole match… tracking back on defense, being a general menace. Beckham was good too.

  34. Isaac says:

    Zonal Marking did a nice tactical review of the game:

    link to zonalmarking.net