For the Galaxy, history and a championship are on the line

The L.A. Galaxy would like to send Landon Donovan into retirement with an MLS championship

For Landon Donovan, the time for talking has passed.

So when the Galaxy midfielder was asked for the umpteenth time Friday whether there was a chance he would rethink his retirement plans, Donovan simply smiled and shook his head no.

And for his teammates that adds to their motivation heading into Sunday's Major League Soccer Cup final with the New England Revolution at StubHub Center, a championship game now known mainly as the final stop on Landon Donovan's Farewell Tour.

"The previous playoff games I don't think we really gave any thought to Landon's departure," Coach Bruce Arena said. "It will be significant on Sunday."

"It would be a great script," added Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, "if he left winning the championship."

That's because another championship would give Donovan sole possession of one of the few U.S. soccer records he doesn't already own. Widely considered the best American player of all time, Donovan has more goals and assists than any player in MLS or national team history. He'll set another record Sunday by appearing in his seventh MLS Cup. And a win would give him a record six titles — three in the last four seasons.

But this game stands out even more, Donovan said, because he knows it's his final one.

"This week has been a little bit different than the past few because I personally didn't know what was coming next. Now I know," said Donovan, 32, who announced in August that this season would be his last. "Candidly I don't want it to end right now. It's been a lot of fun.

"I gave myself a few days early in the week to really understand the finality of it. Now it's a game. And that's where my mind-set is."

For many of the Revolution players, however, all this feels new. Although New England has played in four MLS Cups, losing each time, its last trip came in 2007. As a result Coach Jay Heaps, who played for all four of those losing teams, says New England must avoid being distracted by Donovan's retirement party.

"Our job is to focus on what we need to do," he said. "Landon is an excellent player. And his legacy will certainly stand on its own. [But] we're going into this game preparing ourselves and continuing to stick with our process.

"All that other stuff is just noise."

To succeed, the Revolution will have to get the ball to midfielder Lee Nguyen, who scored 18 goals during the regular season before adding two more — to go with three assists — in the postseason.

A great finisher, Nguyen scored the Revolution's only goal during a 5-1 loss to the Galaxy at StubHub Center in the teams' only meeting last July. But that was before New England added World Cup star Jermaine Jones in August. Since then the Revolution has lost just once in 16 matches and Nguyen has scored 11 times.

"He's the exact type of player that we've been looking for to complete this team," Nguyen said of Jones. "We've had pieces in place, but we just needed the backbone of our midfield. We needed a destroyer in there."

Sunday's final then becomes a clash between an unstoppable force and … well, another unstoppable object. Because while New England is 12-1-3 over the last 2 1/2 months, the Galaxy hasn't lost at StubHub Center since early March, 21 games ago.

The Revolution has Nguyen, an most-valuable-player finalist, and Jones. The Galaxy has Keane, the MVP winner, and Donovan, who led the league with a career-high 19 assists.

But while the Revolution is simply playing for a championship, the Galaxy and Donovan are trying to make history.

"There's a lot of motivation to win a championship," Galaxy defender Robbie Rogers said. "I know the guys in the locker room love Landon Donovan so much and want him to retire on a high note."

Asked what kind of legacy he'll leave behind starting Monday, Donovan dithered. Arena, however, had no such reservations.

"His legacy is that he left the game as the greatest player in the history of U.S. Soccer. And he's a damn good person," the coach said. "That's a pretty good legacy."

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times