Landon Donovan’s hat trick powers Galaxy past Real Salt Lake, 5-0
Galaxy forward Landon Donovan, center, holds the MLS Cup trophy after a 2-1 overtime win against the New England Revolution for the MLS title on Dec. 7, 2014.(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Galaxy forward Landon Donovan chases after the ball during the first half of a MLS Cup victory over the New England Revolution on Dec. 7, 2014.(Robert Laberge / Getty Images)
Galaxy forward Landon Donovan acknowledges the fans after playing in his final professional match following a 2-1 win over the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7, 2014.(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
The rocking chair and the early-bird dinners can wait. Landon Donovan isn’t ready to retire just yet.
Needing a victory Sunday to extend his record-setting career at least two more games, Donovan turned in a dominant playoff performance, scoring three goals and setting up one in the Galaxy’s 5-0 victory over Real Salt Lake in the deciding game of a Major League Soccer Western Conference semifinal.
With a loss or even a tie (with goals scored), the Galaxy would have had its season end and Donovan, who announced his retirement in August, would have had his career end.
He wasn’t about to let that happen.
“Last night and today I was thinking a lot of this through and the reality was … this could have been my last game ever,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of things that were out of my control tonight. The one thing that was in my control was how I played.”
Donovan started the scoring with a nifty header in the 10th minute.
The sequence began with Marcelo Sarvas sending the ball forward to A.J. DeLaGarza on the right side of the box. DeLaGarza immediately chipped it across the goal for Donovan, who nodded a one-hop header into the center of the net.
The goal was the first for Donovan in more than five weeks and the first for the Galaxy in 230 minutes, its longest drought this season. It was the first goal given up by Real Salt Lake since Oct. 5, a span of 413 minutes.
Ten minutes later, a poor clearance allowed an unmarked Donovan to again get the ball in the box on the left side and this time he slipped a left-footed pass across the goal to Robbie Keane, who slid to deflect the ball in with his right foot and give the Galaxy a 2-0 lead before halftime.
Less than 10 minutes into the second half, Donovan proved that, at 32, he hasn’t lost much of his game-changing speed, outrunning two defenders to catch up to a long pass from Keane before dribbling around goalkeeper Nick Rimando and left-footing a shot into the netting on the far side.
Sarvas temporarily interrupted the Donovan Show in the 63rd minute, taking a short flick from Keane and rolling it around Rimando to make it 4-0. Donovan ran onto a Keane chip in the box and right-footed it out of the air and into the goal in the 72nd minute to complete the first MLS playoff hat trick since 1999, two years before Donovan joined the league.
It also extended Donovan’s MLS record for playoff goals to 25 in 38 games and his first-half assist was his 13th in the postseason, one off Mauricio Cienfuegos’ record.
Almost unnoticed was Keane getting three second-half assists.
Donovan exited in the 83rd minute to a standing ovation from an announced sellout crowd of 27,000 knowing that he had survived until at least the end of the month, when the Galaxy completes its two-leg conference final against the winner of Monday’s game between FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders.
“I wanted to have fun tonight,” Donovan said. “If this was going to be my last game, I wanted to enjoy it. And more often than not when I enjoy the game, I play well.
“A night like tonight, when people are playing that way and things are clicking, it’s fun. You don’t want the game to end.”
Or your career to end.
“No sir,” he said with a smile. “Not yet.”
Still Donovan soaked up every last moment just the same, waiting until the field had emptied before jogging slowly to the dressing room, the fans serenading him with chants of “one more year.”
For Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, Sunday’s performance changes nothing in regard to Donovan’s future.
“It’s the right time for him to retire,” Arena said. “He’s ready to go.”
Just not now.
“I think he said that, yeah,” Arena said.
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