Last year was supposed to be the end of an era for the LA Galaxy.
Reports had David Beckham signing with PSG in France. Juninho was headed back to São Paulo. Landon Donovan was supposedly considering a permanent move to Everton.
None of that happened. Juninho quickly returned, and Beckham and Donovan decided to stay. With all the major players returning and a couple of nice additions, many pundits were crowning the Galaxy champions before the season even began.
Of course, life rarely goes as smoothly as expected. The Galaxy stumbled badly at the beginning of the season. As of the beginning of July, the Galaxy looked nothing like a playoff team let alone a team trying to defend a championship. However, the Galaxy consistently improved throughout the season and reached the playoffs with room to spare.
Now, LA is back in the MLS Cup final with a chance to repeat as champions. One of the major reasons for the Galaxy’s playoff success has been the combination play between Donovan and Robbie Keane.
While Donovan mostly played on the wing last year, he has primarily played as forward with Keane this year. The American finished the season with 14 assists, while the Irishman had 16 goals.
“We’re on the same wavelength, and I find it very easy to play alongside him,” Keane said at a press conference Friday. “Most of my goals this season have come down to Landon.”
The return of central defender Omar Gonzalez from injury has also been cited as another major reason for the Galaxy’s improved form.
“Omar is a big reason the Galaxy are back in the final,” Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching said. “They’re fantastic with him in the back.”
Last year, the days leading up to the final were overshadowed by speculation about Beckham. This year, Beckham tributes and Donovan speculation have been the focus.
“Any team from year to year has a lot of turnover,” Donovan said. “That’s the way sports are. That’s the way this league is, like any other league.”
Beckham announced he will leave MLS after this year to pursue new opportunities. Donovan, who has spoken openly about his struggle to stay motivated, suggested to the LA Times this week that he could retire this year at age 30.
Donovan declined to answer questions about his future or mindset at a team press conference Friday, but his unusual demeanor was noted by more than a few reporters. He said several times that he was “excited” about Saturday, but his icy stare told the story of a player deep in thought.
Head coach Bruce Arena said Beckham has seemed like himself and “hasn’t missed a beat” since announcing his departure.
Keane, the Galaxy’s third designated player, gave his strongest statement yet that he has no interest in returning to Europe as has been speculated.
“I’m very happy and very content here,” Keane said. “I look forward to a number of years here.”
In stark contrast to Donovan, Beckham – who has admitted Saturday’s farewell to MLS will be emotional – has seemed relaxed and even cracked jokes at a press conference Thursday.
Where is Donovan’s head right now? Will this also be the final Galaxy match for possible transfer targets Juninho and Gonzalez? How will Beckham respond to know this is his final match?
Only time will answer these questions, but if any team has experience dealing with drama, it’s certainly the Galaxy.