Patton: MLS title should make history for Landon Donovan

Nov 21 2011 - 6:58pm

History may not be especially kind to Landon Donovan.

Down the road, the world soccer community will likely remember the Galaxy's victory in MLS Cup 2011 Sunday night as "the David Beckham team."

But make no mistake, the Galaxy is Donovan's team, and has been for seven seasons since he arrived in 2005.

While fans, pundits and pop-culture buffs spent the week leading up to the match speculating where the British superstar will take his famous face and play his "football" next year, the captain of the team faded to the shadows.

But sometimes the correct karmic things actually happen when they matter most. In the 72nd minute of the scoreless championship, the 29-year-old Donovan took a nifty, short pass from Robbie Keane in the box, settled the ball quickly and flicked it with his right foot over Houston goalie Tally Hall's hand into the net.

"A great goal," said his coach, Bruce Arena. "We struggled in our finishing and Landon got it done."

The lone score of the 1-0 victory earned Donovan the game's Most Valuable Player trophy and center stage -- once again -- on the team that was built around him.

If Beckham was supposed to be a glittery companion piece -- in addition to his duties as the MLS's first international supernova -- it sure took some time to develop. Injuries and other (seemingly more important) commitments kept the Brit from jelling with his American team for several years. That he probably leaves with a championship will be another nice bit of melodrama in the Legend of David Beckham.

But this couldn't have meant more to Beckham than it did to Donovan, winning in his only real home stadium.

Donovan has been the most recognizable men's soccer player in the United States for most of the last decade, and has won three previous MLS championships -- two with San Jose (before the franchise moved to Houston) and one with the Galaxy in 2005.

But, for the most part, Donovan's status is that of an anomaly -- an American soccer star in a sea of national mediocrity. He is the USA's all-time leading international scorer, playing for a country that struggles to win big-picture, FIFA-wide success.

Team-wise, it hasn't been a bed of roses on the home front, either. He and the Galaxy were six years removed from their last title. Even as he had won numerous league individual honors, including MVP, the longtime face of American soccer hadn't been able to get his team back to the winner's circle.

Think this wasn't big for him?

"To be honest, the actual goal doesn't mean a lot to me," said the man whose 20 career playoff goals lead the MLS. "I was just determined to win. I didn't care how a goal went in. Winning just feels so good. Goals come and go. What I'll remember most is when the whistle blew."

His coach confirmed his conviction.

"Landon's been hurt the last two, three months, but this was important to him," said Arena. "We got to the middle of the week and he had his flair back. He's a great player and it was important for him to be on."

Not just on. To be a winner, to cap off the Galaxy's brilliant regular season.

"It would have been harsh to call us a failure if we hadn't won," said Donovan. "But I understand the realities. You get defined by whether you win or lose."

Hopefully, history will count him in.

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