Landon Donovan stood front and center, again, with a chance to give the LA Galaxy command in a tight, intense battle. But he couldn't get it done.
The star attacker, making his first MLS start since returning three weeks ago from a four-month layoff, watched FC Dallas goalkeeper Raúl Fernández swat away his penalty kick in Saturday night's 1-0 loss in Frisco, Texas, denying the Galaxy a 69th-minute advantage that might have been worth three points.
“It's sort of indicative of where I'm at right now,” Donovan told media following the game. “I need more practice. When you're in the run of a lot of games and you're confident and you're comfortable, then everything slows down.”
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The pace is a little too quick for Donovan at the moment. He debuted with a half-hour stint two weeks ago in Toronto, missing a 1-on-1 chance with his first touch in a 2-2 draw. He then saw another 30 minutes or so in the first leg of the Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal loss to Monterrey before going the full 90 in Wednesday night's second leg in Mexico.
He played 90 again Saturday, offered little over 55 minutes up top, then started to show his class after dropping back into midfield when Jose Villarreal came on. He fed Mike Magee a fine pass that should have led to more and connected the Galaxy's attack over the final half-hour, but it is the PK miss that will be remembered.
“It's going to take him a couple of months to get going,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “He's behind the group, but he's done remarkably well. Having him back with very little preparation, he's doing all right. He’s obviously got to play better, and he'll get fitter. As he gets fitter, he'll play better.”
He says he's getting there.
“I feel OK,” he said. “I don't like missing penalties, so that doesn't feel good, but, physically, I feel fine.”
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The penalty kick, earned by Villarreal who sold referee Baldomero Toledo after falling over George John's foot, came eight minutes after Galaxy goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini saved a spot kick by Kenny Cooper. It was a questionable call, too: Leonardo made contact with Blas Pérez after failing to corral a long ball, and the Dallas forward hit the turf easily.
Leonardo, who was red-carded, said it was “an error on my part” and that he didn't “know what happened because he just went down. I don't think it was a penalty. The referee might have felt a little bit of pressure to call it.”
Said fellow defender A.J. DeLaGarza: “I thought he kind of flopped, but I don't want to talk about flopping.”
Dallas won at the end, with John heading home the rebound after FCD forward Eric Hassli nodded a corner kick off the LA crossbar. That made it three straight losses for LA, including both legs against Monterrey in the CCL. What are the defending champs missing?
“Just concentration,” Donovan said. “Tonight is a little bit false because the guys are torn up. We’ve had a tough week, and we played a team that’s been sitting around waiting for us all week. We've got to be better. That's a crucial moment where quite a few guys turned off, and it made us bad.”
Scott French covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com.