Soccer

Robbie Keane is more than an MVP candidate to Galaxy

Landon Donovan says Robbie Keane has "made a number of really nice gestures that have meant a lot to me"

Great athletes are, by conventional wisdom, selfish.

It's why Kobe Bryant leads all active NBA players in field-goal attempts and Peyton Manning tops all active NFL quarterbacks in pass attempts.

The Galaxy's Robbie Keane is no different. Which is why he has taken more shots than any other player in Major League Soccer this season.

"Strikers have to be selfish," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena says. "You don't score goals unless you believe in yourself and you shoot. That's all part of it."

While Keane's confidence has fueled a career-best MLS season, one that could bring him both a most-valuable-player award and a league title next month, his year has also been marked by three acts of remarkable unselfishness that reveal more about his skills as a player and a leader than any number on a score sheet.

The first came in May, after Landon Donovan was cut from the U.S. World Cup team. In Donovan's first game back with the Galaxy, Keane passed up a couple of easy goals and instead left the ball for his heartbroken teammate, who scored twice.

"That didn't go unnoticed. Or unappreciated," says Donovan's mother, Donna Kenney-Cash.

The second came last month when Keane handed Arena the captain's armband and said he wanted Donovan to wear it in his last regular-season home game.

"He volunteered that," Arena says.

The third example came two weeks ago when Keane set Donovan up for two of his three goals in a rout of Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals. The performance by Donovan, who is retiring at the end of the season, was one of the most dominant in MLS playoff history. In addition to extending Donovan's league record for postseason goals, it also sent the Galaxy on to the two-game conference finals with Seattle beginning Sunday afternoon at the StubHub Center.

"He's made a number of really nice gestures that have meant a lot to me," Donovan says.

Ask Keane about any of those stories, though, and all you're likely to get is a smile and shrug. Because if being a good scorer is all about confidence and knowing when to shoot, being a good teammate is all about humility and knowing when to shut up. Keane wants to be both.

"The most important thing is the team," he says. "It's not about individual [accomplishments]. It means absolutely nothing to me. For me it's about winning games."

That's because Keane has scored everywhere he's played. But he hasn't always won.

In the English Premier League his 126 career goals make him the 12th-most prolific scorer in EPL history. Yet none of the six teams on which he played won a league title.

In his native Ireland, Keane holds national records for games played and goals scored. Yet with him on the roster the Irish have won just one game in World Cup and European Championship competition combined.

With the GalaxyKeane has often known nothing but success. Just eight games after joining the team at the end of the 2011 season, he was hoisting the MLS Cup. A year later he scored a team-high 16 goals and added six more in the playoffs as the Galaxy won another title.

But this season has been his best. He led the club in scoring for the third year in a row, and he ranks third in the league with career-high totals in goals (19) and assists (14), making him stand out among three finalists for the league's MVP award.

"There's no question that Robbie should be the MVP," Arena says. "He's a great player. He's well respected. People in the league believe in his quality. I don't know what more you can say."

Give him a choice, though, and Keane says he'd rather win another MLS title.

"Listen, I'm not one of those who wake up every morning thinking 'Oh, I wonder if I'll get the MVP?' I'm not that egotistic about it," he insists. "All I know is I do a job for the team. As long as the teammates are happy, that's the most important thing."

He keeps them happy by doing more than scoring goals. Despite being the oldest and most seasoned player on the team at 34, Keane is often at the center of the team's locker-room pranks. He's also been an invaluable tutor to young strikers Gyasi Zardes, Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal.

What Arena appreciates most, though, is the way Keane has adapted to the MLS. It's no secret that many top imports make little effort to fit in after coming to the U.S. Keane has been an notable exception — which is another reason for his success.

"He's fully accepted what this is about. And he's bought into it," Arena says. "He's doesn't say 'at Liverpool we do this' or 'at Tottenham we do that.' He's been a good addition to our team for sure."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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