SEATTLE – Almost three years ago to the day, Robbie Keane watched helplessly as a controversial hand ball ended his Republic of Ireland squad’s hopes of advancing to the 2010 World Cup. On Sunday night, he got a small modicum of redemption – and a return date to the MLS Cup final.
In the 67th minute of a frantic game at CenturyLink Field, with his LA Galaxy down 2-0 and in danger of losing their 3-0 edge from the first leg of the Western Conference Championship, Keane drove the ball down to the end line and lifted it with his left foot directly into the outstretched arm of Seattle Sounders right back Adam Johansson.
Referee Mark Geiger pointed to the spot, and Keane converted the penalty kick to give the Galaxy the goal they’d need to ensure a 4-2 aggregate victory.
It was such a savvy, veteran move that it almost looked like Keane had that very idea in mind when the ball struck Johansson’s arm.
“It wasn’t calculated,” he told reporters postgame. “You can’t try to get a penalty in that situation. I was just trying to get the ball across and the referee gave a penalty. Lucky for us – I was just trying to get it into the box.”
Veteran Todd Dunivant had a different take: "You can call it a fluke play or whatever you want, but it’s not. Robbie creates that."
But everyone in the Galaxy locker room agreed: That was the play that turned the tide. Seattle came out at kickoff like a bat out of hell and put LA on their heels for the first 20 minutes. Eddie Johnson’s 12th-minute goal was the payoff, and when Zach Scott headed in Christian Tiffert’s corner kick in the 57th minute, it looked almost as if the Sounders would be able to pull off a miracle.
That’s when Keane took matters into, well, Johansson’s hand.
“That’s huge,” said LA goalkeeper Josh Saunders. “That kind of broke them. You saw their spirits drop a little bit.”
What was perhaps even more remarkable about Keane’s performance Sunday night was his play on the other side of the ball. The wily forward hasn’t been known to drop back much in his 15-year professional career, but multiple times tracked back to make a last-ditch defensive play or a timely tackle to keep the Sounders from continuing to gun the engine.
“Robbie worked hard,” offered head coach Bruce Arena. “We had to have guys doing things that they’re not accustomed to necessarily. And Robbie had to chase the ball tonight and did what you expect a player of his quality to do in a game like this in these kinds of conditions.”
And though it wasn’t a typical fox-in-the-box performance from the Galaxy’s leading scorer, even Keane knows that his one highlight moment of the evening might have been the ultimate difference.
“If we didn’t get that goal, they would have bombarded us [and keep putting] the ball into the box, which they were doing anyway in the last 10 minutes and they were unlucky not to score,” he said. “Who knows? They probably would have gotten a goal and it would’ve gone to extra time.”