LA Galaxy forward Landon Donovan is bidding to win a record sixth MLS Cup title on Sunday when his side host the New England Revolution, in a clash which will mark the last game of his professional career.
Having announced in August that he will hang up his boots at the end of the 2014 campaign, aged 32, the former Everton loanee's excellent form since has helped guide LA to the cusp of a third league championship in four seasons, as Bruce Arena’ side going into the game at the StubHub Center as clear favourites.
The Galaxy have experience on their side, with revered head coach Arena the only man to win four MLS Cups from the dugout, and a squad full of holdovers from the teams which tasted success in 2011 and 2012, including freshly-crowned MVP Robbie Keane.
The Irishman has been in exceptional form in 2014, recording 19 goals and 14 assists in 29 regular-season games, while 23-year-old strike-partner Gyasi Zardes has also blossomed into one of the league’s top emerging stars this term with 16 strikes of his own.
Behind them, central midfielder duo Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas might just be the two most underrated names in the league, helping shield a defence which conceded a joint-fewest 37 goals over the course of the regular-season, despite a constant rotation of personnel.
The likes of Dan Gargan and Robbie Rogers, who has been outstanding since being reinvented as a left-back, have stepped up in remarkable fashion to help fill holes on the back-line, but it would be a big blow if the ever-reliable AJ DeLaGarza can’t make it back in time from the ankle problem which saw him miss the second-leg of the Western Conference Championship against the Seattle Sounders.
Nevertheless, the Galaxy have a motivated Donovan on their side, which will certainly serve to give them a leg up on their rivals.
Bidding to ruin his Hollywood ending, however, is a Revolution side energised by the August signing of US World Cup standout Jermaine Jones and talisman Lee Nguyen, who just missed out on the MVP crown to Keane after making the three-man shortlist.
With 18 goals from midfield in 28 regular-season games, including a league-high nine game-winners, the US international is said to be a potential winter transfer target for Southampton, having been on the books of PSV Eindhoven with Ronald Koeman, and leading an upset on the afternoon would no doubt serve to further increase European interest in his signature.
The Revolution themselves have appeared in the most MLS Cups – four – without winning a title, and tasted three consecutive defeats at the final hurdle from 2005 to 2007.
Head coach Jay Heaps started in every one of those losses, but is now back and hoping to claim his first title from the sidelines, after building one of the league’s most exciting young rosters during his three seasons in charge at Foxborough.
Having lost just one of their past 15 outings, the Revolution have peaked at the right time, with Jones’ arrival helping stabilise the middle of the park, and the recent goalscoring form of winger Teal Bunbury and forward Charlie Davies giving them an added dimension in attack.
Whether it will be enough to claim a victory on Sunday afternoon remains to be seen, though, with few willing to bet against Donovan riding off into the sunset with a sixth and final title to his name.
“If anyone deserves to go out on a high, it’s certainly Landon, for what he’s done for this league and what he’s done for the men’s national team,” teammate Keane said at Friday’s press conference. “He’s been absolutely tremendous. Landon deserves it. He deserves to go out on a high.”
Added Donovan: “This week has been a little bit different because I personally didn’t know what was coming next. Now I know.
“I’ve been very excited every day to wake up and go to training. Candidly, I don’t want it to end right now. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m going to have that attitude Sunday.
“I personally want it to be as enjoyable as possible and that would be winning. I enjoy winning, and these guys deserve it and I want to help do that.”