Players began limping into the Galaxy trainers’ room early Monday morning, seeking relief for the pulls and the pounding they suffered in Sunday’s bruising Major League Soccer 1-0 playoff win over the Seattle Sounders.
But while the Galaxy had clearly been bloodied, it remained unbowed heading into the second leg of the two-game Western Conference championship series, which moves to Seattle on Sunday.
“We are full of confidence going there,” midfielder Landon Donovan said. “We are going to get their best shot, and we look forward to it.”
Of course, the physical Sounders’ best shot may be a kick to the shins or an elbow to the chest, as it was last Sunday in a game that featured four yellow cards and 25 fouls, five committed by Seattle defender Zach Scott. And that means the primary job of getting the Galaxy ready for the rematch shifts from Coach Bruce Arena to trainers Ivan Pierra and Kurt Andrews.
“You don’t go through a season like this without those guys,” Donovan said. “They do so much work every day to get us ready to play. They’re people behind the scenes that nobody knows about or hears about, but they keep us on the field, keep us performing.
“We love them. They’re a part of what we do.”
Which is why Donovan has gone out of his way to include the trainers in a pregame ritual he has performed, without fail, in all 260 games he has started since joining the Galaxy in 2005.
“I don’t need to do it,” said Donovan, who insisted he’s not superstitious. “It’s just fun.”
The routine begins with Donovan standing just in front of the Galaxy bench. After the rest of the team has taken the field, the trainers grab two containers of plastic Gatorade squeeze bottles and march toward Donovan, who grabs a bottle, takes a drink, then squirts each trainer in the face with water.
In the summer, it’s refreshing. Next Sunday in Seattle, the temperature could be in the low 40s. And though it unfolds the same way every time, even the participants are unsure how it began.
“It was organic. I have no idea where it started,” Donovan said.
Not everyone agrees with that. In fact, former teammate Cobi Jones said he knows exactly where the idea came from.
“Funny,” said Jones, now a Galaxy TV analyst. “It looks exactly like what I used to do.”
But if the origin of the christening ritual is in doubt, the sentiment is not, says Donovan, who sees it as a sign of appreciation.
“It kind of gets the training staff a little bit fired up and prepared for the game and hopefully makes them feel a little bit part of what’s going on,” he said. “They’re a part of what we do, and we want to make them feel involved.”
Pierra and Andrews will definitely be involved this week. Typically the Galaxy trainers arrive before the players do and leave long after everyone else has gone home. And those long hours will be extended this week.
In Sunday’s game, both A.J. DeLaGarza and Marcelo Sarvas, who combined on the only goal, limped off early with leg injuries, while Robbie Keane took an elbow to the face. And defender Leonardo couldn’t even suit up for the game because of a hamstring strain.
All will get lots of attention this week.
So while Donovan’s pregame routine may be short and go largely unnoticed, the trainers say they value the gesture.
“It’s a bond,” said Andrews, in his third season with the Galaxy. “We as a staff spend a lot of time with him. I could see it as an honor, for sure.”
One that could end Sunday, since Donovan, 32, the all-time leader in goals and assists in both MLS and with the U.S. national team, will retire at the end of the season, taking his water tribute with him.
“The trainers will remain dry during games. It’s horrible,” he joked.
Donovan’s teammates are hoping to put that off as long as possible. Because with a win or a draw in Seattle, the Galaxy will earn the right to host the MLS Cup final Dec. 7, giving Donovan a chance at a sixth league title.
And while that extra effort may not be as bracing as a squirt in the face, defender Robbie Rogers said it’s a show of appreciation as sincere as the one Donovan has shared with the trainers over the past decade.
“There’s a lot of motivation to win a championship,” Rogers said. “I know the guys in the locker room love Landon so much and want him to retire on a high note.”