Shortly before Major League Soccer’s playoffs began last month, Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas was asked what the team planned to give the retiring Landon Donovan as a going-away present.
“We want to buy him the MLS Cup,” Sarvas said, which immediately led to two assumptions: Either Sarvas doesn’t understand how the MLS playoffs work, since you can’t actually buy the championship, or the Galaxy will stop at nothing, including bribery, to send Donovan off a winner.
More likely it was simply a case of Sarvas’ becoming tongue-tied since English is his fourth language. But that doesn’t change the fact that Donovan’s teammates are on a mission to give him a sixth league title, which would also give him one of the few league records he hasn’t already earned.
The Galaxy can do that Sunday at the StubHub Center when it plays host to the New England Revolution, losers of just one game in the last four months, for the MLS title. The Revolution qualified for the game by beating the New York Red Bulls on aggregate goals last Saturday to win the Eastern Conference title.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, backed into the Cup final, losing the second game of the Western Conference championship series Sunday in Seattle, 2-1, but advancing on a tiebreaker by scoring the only road goal in the two-game series.
“We haven’t won anything yet so this is just another step along the way,” said Donovan, 32, who came off the field in frigid Seattle shirtless after giving his jersey to a young fan. “Now we get one game at home to win a championship. If anybody had said at the beginning of the year that was the opportunity, we would take it in a heartbeat and we are going to go with everything to win it.”
If they do, it will mark a fitting finale to an incredible career for Donovan, the career leader in both goals and assists for both the U.S. national team and in MLS. He tied another record Sunday when his 14th career playoff assist led to a second-half score by Juninho that punched the Galaxy’s ticket to its third MLS Cup appearance in four seasons — all three of them at the team’s home stadium in Carson.
“That’s Landon,” Coach Bruce Arena said of Donovan, whose penchant for the dramatic has carried the Galaxy through a postseason in which he has two assists and a team-leading three goals. “He’s a great player. He’s an experienced guy. He’s able to deal with the ups and downs in a game.”
By doing so he brought the championship game to the StubHub Center for the sixth time, which is also a record.
“It seems perfect,” Donovan said. “But we are playing a team that I think is the best team in the league over the last 12 games.”
Longer than that, actually. Since New England signed midfielder Jermaine Jones off the U.S. World Cup team and paired him with MVP candidate Lee Nguyen (20 goals, five assists) in August, the Revolution is 11-1-2, going from sixth place in the East standings with a losing record to its first MLS Cup final in eight years.
The Galaxy and Revolution played once this season, at Carson in mid-July, with the Galaxy winning, 5-1.
But that was before New England started its hot steak, and the Revolution has kept it going with 11 goals in four postseason games. At kickoff Sunday, however, the teams will be even.
“To get this result and be in the final at home, we’re proud of that,” Arena said. “They have an opportunity to be the MLS champions so we look forward to that challenge. It’s going to be a tough game.”