MARK EDWARD HORNISH
CARSON, Calif. – The outcome seemed inevitable as soon as Landon Donovan took the field on Sunday.
Just three days after being a surprise omission from the U.S. World Cup team, Donovan cemented himself in the MLS record books, scoring his 135th regular season goal to become the MLS all-time leading goal scorer, bypassing former record holder Jeff Cunningham. Donovan finished the night with two goals and one assist as the LA Galaxy manhandled a hapless Philadelphia Union, 4-1, in front of 21,000 at Stub Hub Center.
Donovan set the record in the 48th minute when he stepped easily into a well sent cross from Robbie Keane and tucked home the ball from the six to double the Galaxy’s lead. Donovan dropped to his knees and raised his hands skyward.
If the coaching staff of the USMNT wasn’t watching, the soccer gods – as well as the rest of the MLS – was. Both Twitter and the Stub Hub Center erupted, but after congratulating his teammates, Donovan quickly returned to the center of the field and resumed play.
“That felt good,” Donovan said after the match. “A lot of relief, a lot of joy. I said yesterday, I feel like I’m in really good form right now, and I’m playing really well.”
“It’s been a long week,” Donovan continued. “It’s hard to not make it about me. I don’t necessarily want it to be that way. But, I’ve sacrificed a lot to be in the position I’m in, and I was very happy for myself. I’ve dedicated a lot to this, and I think I deserve what happened today.”
Donovan was not done, however, and in the 81st minute, he and strike partner Robbie Keane treated the crowd to some tasty combination play, culminating in Donovan beating Union keeper Zac MacMath low and wide to put the game out of reach.
Keane also participated in the rout, capitalizing on a failed clearance by Sheanon Williams before racing in alone on goal and nutmegging MacMath. Keane appeared to relish in the return of his strike partner, and appeared to be looking for the boots of Donovan all night.
“As you know, the relationship between me and Landon has been fantastic for the last few years, and we’ve seen that again tonight,” Keane said.
Donovan did not wait long into the match to make his presence felt. After drawing a foul in the second minute, he took the free kick himself and sent a long curling ball to the far post and onto the head of a waiting Leonardo, who popped it past a helpless Zack McMath and gave the Galaxy the early lead. It was Donovan’s third assist on the season, to go with his brace of goals.
The only blemish to the Galaxy’s celebratory night came in the closing minutes, when Donovan’s substitute, Raul Mendiola, tracked back late, made a rash challenge in his team’s area, and brought down Zack Pfeffer in the box from behind. Referee Jorge Gonzalez did not hesitate to point to the spot, and Maurice Edu converted shortly before the final whistle .
With two goals and an assist on the night, Donovan received a standing ovation when he was subbed out in the 83rd minute by Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. The longtime compatriots hugged it out on the sideline
“I’m really happy for him. It’s an unbelievable milestone for any athlete,” Arena said. “Just a great accomplishment. We’re grateful for having him here. I know it takes a little pressure off him, to have that record now. Others can chase him for the rest of his life.”
Donovan also discussed the crowd’s reaction, as well as the overall response he’s received since his dismissal from the national team.
“It’s incredible. You have no idea how many messages I’ve received – literally thousands of messages, from people around the country, around the world,” Donovan said. “People that say ‘I’m a diehard Sounders fan, I’m a diehard D.C. United fan, I’ve hated you all of my life on the field, and I’m so happy for you, I respect what you’ve done,’ and all those things. So the support’s been overwhelming.
“It’s funny the way things work out. I’ve said this many times in my life, I try to stay present. It’s been hard all day today, my mind was wandering, and thinking of where else I could be today, and I kept coming back to being present, and staying present, and enjoy THIS game, and do your best. I’m glad I was able to do that.”
The Galaxy have now collected more points – six – in their first week back in Los Angeles, than they did in their entire, gloomy, five-week, four-game, two-point road trip. The Galaxy will now travel to Chicago to take on the Fire on June 1. The Union will stay in Los Angeles for the week and face Chivas USA at the Stub Hub Center on May 31.