CARSON, Calif. — Winning consecutive Supporters’ Shield titles requires a capable attack, tough-as-nails defending and numerous victories with a few draws mixed in.
It also requires determination, grit, consistency, collective mental strength, and season-long focus.
At the helm, there also needs to be a strong leader guiding the way, and for LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, he has exactly that with skipper Landon Donovan guiding his side admirably throughout the course of the MLS season.
“I give Landon a lot of credit for his leadership as our captain, for having to set the tone each and every day,” Arena said.
The 2011 Galaxy have shown all the qualities their captain is known for on their way to capturing a second straight Supporters’ Shield. With two games to spare, the LA have clinched the title and will finish with the most points in the league for the fourth time in MLS history.
While players throughout the roster were responsible in helping in the team's success, Donovan played the biggest role.
The Galaxy captain scored a team-high 12 goals while also contributing three assists in 23 games. But it’s not just the tangible leftovers from games gone by that Arena sees from Donovan. His influence off the field is equally as impressive as those stellar stats.
“You talk about the value players have on teams,” Arena said. “We know his value on the field. His value off the field is tremendous. In some ways it’s more influential than it is on the field.”
Since before the start of training camp, Donovan has been focused on helping the team achieve success. He opted to rest and recover from a grueling two-year stretch, totally dismissing any potential offseason loan spells. At the start of camp, he was able to deflect off any criticism from David Beckham’s time at Tottenham and helped keep the focus on the team and the goals at hand.
Having won the Supporters’ Shield in 2010, the Galaxy entered the season as title contenders once more, and wins came at a rapid pace after a sluggish start — three in April and a four-game winning streak to close out May.
But it’s in the team’s low points where Donovan’s influence can best be seen. LA have yet to lose consecutive games this year — not just in league play, but in all competitions. The club’s two worst losses of the regular season — a 4-1 defeat at Real Salt Lake in March and a 3-0 whipping by Portland in early August — were followed up by wins of 1-0 over Philadelphia and 3-1 over FC Dallas, respectively.
Tough CONCACAF Champions League losses in Morelia, Mexico, and Alajuela, Costa Rica, were followed up by league wins against Vancouver and Columbus. The Galaxy have lost seven games in all competitions, and following six of those defeats, the Galaxy have five wins, one draw, and have outscored their opponents 10-2. Their ability to bounce back from disappointing results has been sensational.
“Even when we don’t play well, don’t get the kinds of results we want, they stick together and get back to business the next day," Arena said. "In this modern era, that’s not always easy to do. Sometimes people think about themselves more than the group or the team, and they go in their own directions and they’re individuals, but this has been a really good unit.”
Instead of going off in different directions, Galaxy players have done well to compartmentalize the setbacks, put them quickly in the past, and keep looking forward.
“The leadership plays a vital role,” Arena said. “You’ve got to give Landon a lot of credit for that.”