Time is now for LA Galaxy's young attackers as Landon Donovan heads off to Gold Cup duty
It's crucial to the defending champs' success, as shown during LA's second-half run last year, and has been building slowly amid hiccups – mostly Keane's injuries and international duties – since Donovan returned from his extended leave of absence at the end of March.
Now it's beginning to bear real fruit. Both Galaxy goals in last weekend's 3-2 defeat were products of their partnership, and LA could have – should have – had more.
As LA (7-7-3) look to make a move up the Western Conference standings, starting with Thursday's Fourth of July showdown with the Columbus Crew at StubHub Center (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), they're without Donovan, who on Monday joined the US national team for the July 7-28 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The timing isn't great.
“It took about three or four months to get Landon on his game, and that's finally occurred the last two games,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “So we're going to send him away for 30 days, and he'll come back exhausted, and he'll need another 30 days. So we start all over again.”
Donovan, playing primarily on the right side of midfield, has been hit and miss since his return, but he's been at his best when he can combine with Keane, scoring two of his three goals and dishing all six of his assists this season when the Galaxy captain is on the field.
The US national team star likely will miss five MLS games – Thursday, Saturday at home against FC Dallas, July 13 at the Portland Timbers, July 20 at home against Vancouver Whitecaps and July 27 at the Colorado Rapids – while making his first appearances with the US since last August's victory over Mexico at Estadio Azteca. The US play Guatemala on Friday in San Diego (11 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Donovan has played up top with Keane, including through most of last year's late-season run, but Arena has favored youngsters Jose Villarreal and Gyasi Zardes in that role – and Jack McBean is nearing full strength following a collarbone injury – while using Donovan on one flank and, the past three games, Robbie Rogers on the other.
Hector Jimenez, who has played in the past 11 league games, with four starts, and scored the second goal against San Jose, is likely to take Donovan's spot on the right. Michael Stephens also is an option, and Rogers can play on the right with Colin Clark on the left.
“You can't really replace a guy like Landon,” Rogers said. “But we have a big team here, a lot of great players ... Landon's gone and what he adds to the team, so he kind of gives you [the need to approach it as] 'OK, we need to step up because Landon's gone, we need to add a little bit more, so take more responsibility.' I think it's something I'll try to do in the next few weeks.”
Keane is a realist.
“He's gone now for a month, so there's no point in crying about it,” the Irishman said. “He's gone. We have to accept that. It gives people an opportunity now to step up, so we wish him well with the national team, but we look forward to when he comes back.”