Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #46 Out Of Hand
LA Galaxy 1
|Did You Know?|
|Donovan Ricketts was a goalkeeper in the 2003-'04 English Premier League (Bolton Wanderers) and at the 1998 World Cup (Jamaica) but didn't see action in either competition for his team.|
#46. Out Of Hand (2009)
Ten years after the LA Galaxy lost MLS Defender of the Year and captain Robin Fraser to injury in MLS Cup ’99, history repeated itself in the 2009 championship match against Real Salt Lake. This time it involved 2009 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year finalist Donovan Ricketts.
“It was a crazy play,” recalls RSL GM Garth Lagerwey of the 47th-minute incident. “Robbie [Findley] came in with [LA defender] Omar Gonzalez and all three ran into each other. That’s when Ricketts broke his hand and we didn’t know. He took his glove off and the trainer came off, and we got the equalizer shortly thereafter.”
It was Ricketts’ own teammate – 2009 MLS Rookie of the Year Gonzalez – who clipped the ‘keeper’s trailing right hand as all three players dove in for the ball. The big Jamaican, kicked his legs frantically as he writhed in pain on the ground.
"I didn't think it was broken," Ricketts said. "I felt like it was a sprain or something, but then I felt something move in there, and I knew it was broken."
“I knew it was bad instantly,” said Fox Soccer broadcaster Allen Hopkins, who was a sideline reporter for ESPN at the match. “The length of the evaluation by the trainers trying to diagnose what was going on was a big red flag for me. I remember Donovan trying to flex the hand and how uncomfortable it was for him to put the glove back on.”
It was officially revealed after the match that Ricketts had suffered a broken hand, but at the time, he endured as long as he could.
Minutes after sustaining the injury, he came off his line to make a critical save on Robbie Russell’s close range poke shot but couldn’t do anything on the equalizing goal scored by Findley in the 64th minute.
“In my notes from that game, I wrote down that he couldn’t get the pain off his face," Hopkins said. "I remember thinking that he was going to continue, but he couldn’t shake it and as a goalkeeper you have a lot of time to think about it. I don’t know if you can be fully committed when you have that sort of pain.”
Seconds after RSL equalized, Ricketts slowly walked off the field, succumbing to the hand injury nearly 20 minutes after it occurred.
"I thought I could get through, but the pain was too much," Ricketts said. "And I wouldn't have been able to help the team in the final, so I decided to just come out. I just told them I couldn't do it anymore, and I walked. They didn't help me, I just walked right off."
Seldom-used backup, 28-year-old Josh Saunders, was the replacement.
“I’d tell you [the substitution] had no impact in the game because there weren’t a ton of chances the rest of the game,” Lagerwey continued. “But where we noticed it was when we headed into the penalty-kick shootout and we felt we had an advantage. That’s not a knock on Josh, who’s a tremendous goalkeeper. But he has less of a presence and less of that big moment experience in that spot.”
“I remember Bruce’s reaction at the time of the substitution,” Hopkins said. “There was a lot of anxiety there from the Galaxy perspective. Any time you lose a big piece of your team, it’s certainly going to hurt you in your mindset that you’re not at all cylinders.”
While RSL say that the withdrawal of the Galaxy’s No. 1 ‘keeper gave them a psychological boost when the game went to PKs, LA felt quite the opposite. Ricketts was borderline intimidating in his first season in MLS, but Saunders came on and made two saves from the seven PK attempts he faced, stuffing RSL veterans Kyle Beckerman and Andy Williams.
“Josh Saunders is as good, if not better, at PK saves than Donovan,” said Galaxy veteran defender Todd Dunivant. “We had so much faith in Josh.”
“He stopped two of our players, but mentally for our guys going into that shootout, the fact that Ricketts wasn’t there and Saunders is a little smaller than Ricketts, that played into it,” Lagerwey said.
The little-known impact of the Ricketts injury was felt when it came to the Galaxy’s substitutions. LA were the first club to make a goalkeeper substitution in an MLS Cup final, and with Gonzalez and Chris Birchall also coming off before the end of regulation, the Galaxy were out of subs.
“At the end of the game, we broke down physically in extra time,” Dunivant said. “Five minutes into extra time, I pulled my hamstring. I had been dealing with it in that postseason and missed some games but came back for MLS Cup. I turned to the bench and they asked if I wanted to play up front [at forward] but I was able to just get through it.
“That was the biggest blow. We needed more subs and we didn’t have them.”
Does Ricketts save Findley’s goal with a healthy hand? The man who saw the goal from up close says no.
"It took a deflection, I dived one way and he got a free ball and he tucked it in," Ricketts said. "I don't think I could have done much more."
But does the game change if the Galaxy can make another sub? Does the PK shootout go a different way with the 6-foot-4 Ricketts between the pipes?
One injury. Still so many unanswered questions.