CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan has been clutch before -- previous MLS Cup finals, World Cup matches, Gold Cups. It's just what he does.
And he did it again on Sunday night.
The Galaxy captain scored the winning goal in a 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo at the Home Depot Center to give LA the 2011 MLS Cup. He took home MVP honors for his heroics.
“I thought Landon was the MVP tonight,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said in the postgame press conference. “He deserved to score that goal. It wouldn’t have mattered who scored it, but he scored it and he won us the match. We’re lucky to have a player like him.”
For Donovan, scoring the winning goal – his 20th in the MLS postseason – wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things.
“To be honest, the actual goal doesn’t mean a whole lot to me,” he admitted. “I, for the last month, have been like the rest of these guys: so determined to win. I didn’t care who scored or if it was an own goal; I didn’t care how the ball went in, I just wanted it to go in, and I mean that whole-heartedly. ... The goals come and go, but the moment when the whistle blew is what I’ll remember.”
The tally came after head coach Bruce Arena decided to move Donovan up to striker after replacing Adam Cristman with Chris Birchall. It was a move Arena contemplated after the Galaxy failed to put more than a handful of chances into the net.
“It was always part of the thinking,” Arena said, “and it was almost like we thought it would happen in and around the 60th-minute mark, that we’d make that switch at some point that we’d bring in somebody and move Landon Donovan up top. … We struggled in our finish tonight and Landon got it done for us.”
“I wasn’t aware even that we were making a sub,” Donovan said. “Bruce is so good an analyzing the game and trying to figure out what we need and it paid off. When I [play up top], my sole purpose is to be as aggressive as possible to make good runs.”
His goal would not have happened had Robbie Keane not threaded a pass to Donovan, who finished the beautiful build-up in the 72nd minute.
“People – justifiably so – see Robbie as a goal scorer, but he’s a great soccer player,” Donovan praised. “I remember the first day he got out here, watching him pass the ball I was really impressed and I realized what a good passer he was. The pass he gave me for the goal was fantastic, absolutely world-class.”
The win put an exclamation point on what has been an unbelievable season for the LA Galaxy, who won the Supporters' Shield as the best team in the regular season of MLS, qualified for the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, and won the MLS Cup on Sunday night.
“It’s a sense of elation [to win the championship],” said Donovan, who had been dealing with injuries that had, according to Arena, kept him from showing his usual flair for the past two or three months. “[…] As an athlete, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment to be able to win a championship in your own stadium. … I think the atmosphere was fantastic tonight. The stadium was electric, and to [win the title] in your own stadium is really, really special and I’m going to remember it forever.”