Robbie Keane was quiet for most of the day, giving a performance that left broadcasters wondering when the league’s Most Valuable Player was going to show up. Late — 21 minutes past time and nine minutes before penalty kicks — he finally came good. On a play that accentuated movement, awareness, skill and composure that’ve made him on one of Major League Soccer’s best players, the Ireland international broke a 1-1 tie, giving the LA Galaxy a 2-1 win over New England and a league-record fifth MLS Cup.
The goal, slid past Bobby Shuttleworth from a tight angle left of goal, also gave head coach Bruce Arena his fifth title, but perhaps more dramatically, it gave a retiring Landon Donovan his victorious farewell. The league’s all-time leading scorer and assist-maker, the 32-year-old Donovan is now set fade into retirement, doing so after claiming his sixth MLS title.
For most of the day, the Galaxy icon was quiet, as was Keane, goal scorers Gyasi Zardes and Chris Tierney, as well as almost every other player who took the field today in Carson, Calif. For a game that promised entertainment in its week-long lead up, there was no payoff. Despite the presences of Keane, Donovan and Lee Nguyen — three players who appeared in this year’s Best XI — the match rarely broke out of its cautious pose.
Which, of course, happens occasionally in this sport, particularly in finals. It’s what happens when our risk-averse tendencies engage soccer’s low-scoring world, and while MLS may still provide us more duds than we’d otherwise like, this need not be an indictment of the whole circuit. MLS’s 2014 Cup may have been the least-entertaining final since Colorado-Dallas (2010), but there were few complaints about the three games in between. We have to take the good while we take the bad. Those are the facts of life.
Through it all on Sunday, the facts of MLS life were reinforced. The Galaxy may not be the only big spender in the league anymore, but it continues to produce the league’s best teams, a fact which we began to suspect when Bruce Arena pulled his team out of its goal-shy doldrums this summer. As for Arena, this latest title comes after a season in which he instilled a profoundly different approach, eschewing the counterattacking base he’d built in the last few years for a more possession-based style. While distancing himself from the coaching pack, he’s reinforced an oft-overlooked line of his résumé: versatile.
It won’t take long for us to overlook the two hours of pedestrian soccer that produced the day’s result. The narratives are too strong. The Galaxy and Bruce have their fifth titles, the league MVP was game MVP, and Landon got the send-off so many wanted. Perhaps the plot lacked action, but the finale, in its own way, delivered.