Robbie Keane delivers in Galaxy’s title-clinching victory

Landon Donovan hoists the MLS Cup trophy during the Galaxy's celebration at StubHub Center.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

For the last decade, the Galaxy has been Landon Donovan’s team. And it has been a successful relationship, with the Galaxy winning four Major League Soccer titles under his leadership.

But Sunday, late in overtime in the final game of Donovan’s record-setting career, the team changed owners. Because when Robbie Keane capped a most-valuable-player season by scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup final at StubHub Center, the Galaxy became his.

It was a smooth transition, with Donovan riding happily into retirement at 32 with six league championships, the same as Michael Jordan in the NBA and one more than Derek Jeter in Major League Baseball, while Keane claimed his third championship in 3 1/2 seasons in MLS.

“It’s nice to have him on this team,” an emotional Bruce Arena, the Galaxy’s coach, said.


“I can’t say enough about Robbie. He’s been a special leader, a great player, and a great friend and teammate.”

And, apparently, a pretty good assistant coach and fortune teller. Because it was Keane’s halftime suggestion that Arena move forward Gyasi Zardes to the midfield that led to the game’s first goal. And then, in the second 15-minute overtime period, Keane sidled up to teammate Omar Gonzalez and predicted he’d get the winning goal.

“I said ‘don’t worry, I’ll score,’ ” he said. “It wasn’t me being big headed. I knew that [if] I’d get a chance, I would put it away. Thankfully for me, it went into the back of the net and we win the championship.”

After a scoreless first half in which the teams played conservatively, the pace picked up considerably after Zardes’ goal in the 52nd minute. The sequence began with a non-call after New England midfielder Lee Nguyen was knocked to the ground deep in the penalty area.


The Galaxy quickly counterattacked, getting the ball to Stefan Ishizaki at the edge of the box and from there Ishizaki caromed a long cross off the back of defender Chris Tierney to Zardes on the left side. Zardes settled the ball with his right foot before dribbling three steps and beating New England keeper Bobby Shuttleworth with a left-footed shot for his first goal since late September.

Tierney tied the score with 11 minutes left in regulation, taking advantage of a letdown in the Galaxy’s central defense to send the game to overtime. But Keane would not be denied. So when he ran onto to a long Marcelo Sarvas pass alone just inside the 18-yard box, he made no mistakes, putting away a right-footed tap.

“Big players step up,” New England Coach Jay Heaps said.

The goal, in the 111th minute, not only won the game for the Galaxy and game MVP honors for Keane, it also ended a season in which he claimed virtually every significant team and individual honor the league has to offer. And it cemented his role in the locker room as well.


“Robbie Keane is our captain,” Zardes said. “And I love playing for him and Bruce.”

How much long either will stick around is uncertain. At 34, Keane is signed for another season and seems a long way from done. But Arena’s career is winding down. A Hall of Fame member, he is the most successful coach in U.S. history with Sunday’s title marking his fifth MLS championship. There would appear to be few more mountains left to climb.

“Robbie’s going to outlive me in this game. He’s going to play a lot longer then I’m coaching,” said Arena, who added he would make a decision on his future in “the next couple of weeks.”

Donovan has made his decision, of course, announcing his retirement in August. And while he’ll be remembered as the greatest player in U.S. soccer history, Keane said Sunday’s victory was not about one man but about the team.


His team.

“We weren’t going into the game thinking about that, that it was his last game,” Keane said. “We were obviously aware of it. [But] for us it was just about the team and concentrating on winning the game.”

And now that they’ve done that, the Galaxy’s new boss says the challenge is to do it again.

“The reason why we’re the best team is because we’re winning trophies. If they didn’t win trophies, they wouldn’t be the best team,” Keane said. “By doing that, you have to live up to your expectation.


“If you’re not winning, people forget about you very quickly.”