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Galaxy reach West Finals as Donovan hat-trick buries RSL

Landon Donovan Vs RSL 11092014 (USA TODAY Sports)
Photo by Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports



CARSON, Calif. — The Landon Donovan Farewell Tour has added another couple dates.

The Los Angeles Galaxy legend scored three times, assisted once, and harried the Real Salt Lake defense all night long as the Galaxy crushed their perennial Western Conference playoff nemesis Sunday night, 5-0, in the second leg of their playoff matchup.

After a scoreless draw days earlier in Salt Lake, the Galaxy now advance to the Western Conference Championship on a 5-0 aggregate win where they will face Monday’s winner of FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders.

“Today I was thinking a lot of this through, and the reality was, we could have been standing here and talking and this could have been the last game ever,” said Donovan, who is retiring at the end of the season. “There were a lot of things that were out of my control tonight. The one thing that was in my control was how I played.”

“So, I wanted to make sure that when I went home tonight and looked in the mirror, I would know I gave everything I had, regardless of the result.”

It is likely that Donovan will like what he sees tonight. In front of 27,000 boisterous supporters on a sold-out, balmy night at the Stub Hub Center, Donovan’s coup de grace came in the 72nd minute. Strike partner Robbie Keane scooped the ball over the RSL back line and sent in an alert Donovan, who gathered the pass from over his shoulder and volleyed the ball past a helpless Nick Rimando.

The Keane-Donovan tandem combined for three of the five goals on the night, and Captain Keane complimented Donovan’s performance with his own remarkable evening, scoring a goal and adding three assists.

“Robbie was Robbie tonight,” said Donovan about his strike partner. “He hit two fantastic passes to me, scored a great goal, and he was a nightmare to have to defend all night. And when he’s like that, we’re hard to beat.”

In the 55th minute, Keane fired a long through ball from midfield and sent Donovan into the RSL end at a gallop. Rimando was forced well off his line, and Donovan neatly juked the sprawling RSL netminder before firing home a hard angled shot into the far side netting to give the Galaxy an three goal lead and control of the match.

“We just couldn’t control the ball,” said Real Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar. “We couldn’t get enough of the ball to then get our team together and do the things that we wanted to.”

“It was a team that was just flying tonight,” Cassar added of the Galaxy. “I mean, they were on their game. Every aspect. Movement. Bite. Quality.”

Donovan opened the scoring early with a header that beat Rimando to the left post, off a cross from AJ De La Garza, who moved from his usual center back position to right back and spent much of the evening in the attack for the Galaxy.

Donovan repaid the favor to Keane and added an assist to his scoring spree in the 20th minute on a hard cross onto the sliding foot of Keane, who had to hustle back into the onside position before reversing course to slot home the goal.

Sarvas added the remaining Galaxy tally in the 63rd minute when he took a clever Keane heel pass at the penalty spot and beat Rimando low.

Donovan was subbed out in the 82nd minute after receiving a dubious yellow card in front of the RSL bench. The all time MLS playoff goal scoring leader received a standing ovation as he left the pitch. By then, the match was far out of reach.

“We played well. Obviously the result is a little surprising, but I fully anticipated we’d win this game,” said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena after the match. “We’ve got to continue to move forward as a team, and hopefully be ready for the next series.”

For Real Salt Lake, the strong late season run of form came to a ruinous conclusion. The Claret and Cobalt had not surrendered a goal, or a defeat, in their previous four matches before the dam broke tonight.

“They’re a team that is very good when they have the ball,” Donovan said. “When they don’t have the ball, they struggle, because they have a lot of guys that don’t really want to defend, through the midfield and up front. We did a really good job of making them try to defend. When you have Saborio having to chase back and defend guys in his own end, and not in front of your goal, that makes a big difference.”

“Most games they go into and dominate possession-wise,” Donovan continued. “We’re one of the few teams that can flip the table on them.”

The Galaxy received a momentary scare when Brazilian center back Leonardo went down hard on a challenge near the Galaxy end line and had to be stretchered off. Rare defensive substitute Tommy Meyer came on in Leonardo’s place, but had little to do on the evening as RSL mounted only four shots on goal to the Galaxy’s 19. Leonardo’s status is unknown, but walked off under his own power to the locker room later on the night.

The Galaxy will now await the result of the other Western Conference semifinal, when the Seattle Sounders host FC Dallas on Monday night.  The MLS takes a week off for the international break, and the Conference Championships will resume on Nov. 22.

Here are the match highlights:


  1. What a game, what an atmosphere, and what a clinic. Honoured to have been there, in person.

    LD was definitely fired up (as was the entire team). On another level, for sure. I hope they can keep this up!

    By the way, the LA Riot Squad is legit. Love those guys!

    • My wife and I are sitting with LARS more and more these days because they’re more interested in chanting funny songs at the opposition than being bleeding-heart supporters. I respect ACB, and we’ve spent many a season standing with them, singing songs and jumping up and down, but I’m getting older… I don’t want to put my arm on a drunk kid’s shoulder and hop up and down. I just want to watch the game and yell the occasional profanity at the opposing team, while enjoying a beer and *gasp* actually sitting down from time to time.

  2. I love me some MLS, but on a couple of goals last night we saw one of the major weaknesses of the league: defending. It needs to get cleaned up if we want to see the league continue to progress in quality.

    • Or we can instead look to become a pure attacking league like the Dutch League.

      It would actually really help the sport in North America if we had lots of 4-3 games

      • I’d love nothing more to see this, than opt for a defensive-minded hack-n-slash mentality we current employ.

      • Is that a league wide agreed upon tactic or is that the result of having some awful player having no other choice when the DP s run by them?

    • The improvement in defending, which may not yet be sophisticated but is certainly less naïve than it used to be, is one of the clear trends in the league. Center backs used to be big guys who beat the living you know what out of attacker (see John Doyle) but are increasingly better skilled, better passers, faster and more tactically aware. MLS defending is not the finished product yet, but it is far better than it used to be.

      As for taking yesterday as a benchmark, I don’t think that is fair. In both games, teams were forced into having to score. RSL, which did a great job smothering the ridiculously potent Galaxy attack last week, gave up a well worked goal early and had to go forward increasingly throughout the game and got punished. Happens in leagues the world over. The RSL defense is probably every bit as good as it looked last week but the circumstances changes.

  3. Although starting Leo is scary, moving AJ to RB and having him commit to going forward was a genius move by Bruce. And, Landon Donovan was his awesome self. Fantastic game!

  4. No way LD was losing this game. But wow…. what a show. The only thing I’m a little concerned about as an LAG fan is that Zardes seems to have lost his shooting boots. He may not need them.

    Salivating for the next round. Overall, I am enjoying the playoffs as much as I ever have. Anyone else?

    • Totally agreed. I feel like LAG, Seattle (assuming they advance tonight), New England, and RBNY are truly the best 4 teams at this time (probably in this order) and should make for good semis and final with so many stars involved.

    • Right there with you. Zardes has fallen off scoring-wise, but he’s no less important on the pitch. He made a name for himself with 16ish goals, so he’s attracting more attention from defenders, drawing them away from Keane and Donovan. As long as we’re getting goals from someone, I’m happy to see Zardes out there driving defenses crazy trying to keep up.

      As for the playoffs this year, yes, I’m totally digging them more than previous years. Mostly because the Eastern playoff teams are very good. Even DC and CBus were impressive going into the playoffs. In years past, Houston played ugly soccer but still made its way into the final or almost to the final. No me gusta futbol feo de Houston.

      I’m every bit as excited to watch Thierry Henry vs. Jermaine Jones as I am to see LA vs. SEA/DAL.


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