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Your Guide To Major League Soccer's Biggest Game: LA Galaxy Faces Off Against New England Sunday
Carson, CA — You’d be hard-pressed to find two teams in Major League Soccer with less in common than the LA Galaxy and New England Revolution.
Both are league originals—the Galaxy, however, are the face of MLS, the league’s flagship franchise, winners of four MLS Cups who reside in the league’s original soccer temple. The Revolution have never hoisted that trophy—they haven’t even had a shot at doing so since 2007—and have struggled mightily to gain traction and relevance while playing in a massive American football stadium an hour’s drive from Boston.
The two teams will meet on Sunday in Carson (3 p.m., ESPN, UniMas), vying for this year’s MLS Cup. For those of you who haven’t had your eye on the Galaxy (or MLS) to this point, here’s a quick primer.
How’d they get here: The Galaxy made an impressive run through the regular season, finishing just three points shy of the Seattle Sounders for the Supporters’ Shield — awarded to whoever finishes the year with the highest point total. They made quick work of Real Salt Lake in the conference semifinals before eliminating the Sounders from contention in the finals and booking their spot in Sunday’s encounter.
New England enter Sunday’s final on a roll: after a mid-season lull, the Revolution lost just once in their final dozen games and will take the field at StubHub having dispatched of the Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls to cut a path to the title game.
What’s at stake: The Galaxy have been MLS Cup finalists a whopping nine times, made all the more impressive when you think about the fact that Major League Soccer as a whole is less than 20 years old. Their fifth title would add to a bevy of other trophies—four Supporters’ Shields, two US Open Cups and a CONCACAF Champions league title in 2000—and probably push them just ahead of eastern conference rivals D.C. United in the conversation for “most successful franchise in MLS history.”
As for the Revolution, they’ve never hoisted the cup—but not for lack of trying. New England has been to the final on four previous occasions, memorably losing three consecutive MLS Cups in 2005-2007. A title would be a shot in the arm to a team that— despite being among the league’s oldest franchises—still maintains a pretty low profile and still dreams of moving into a soccer-specific home of their own.
Who to watch: All eyes will be glued on Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan, who will bring his storied career to a close on Sunday afternoon. Arguably the best soccer player this country has ever produced, “Captain America” already has done everything there is to do in MLS, winning three MLS Cups, an MLS MVP award, golden boot, best XI — you name it, Donovan has done it.
But there are other Galaxy players worth keeping an eye on as well: Irish national team captain Robbie Keane is in the midst of a career year and on Wednesday claimed the MLS MVP award, while his strike partner Gyasi Zardes has also been putting together a banner year of his own, finding the back of the net on 16 occasions while becoming one of the league’s emerging young talents.
Keane’s style is unique. He’s a lunchpail guy — hard-working, gritty — but he also does things with the ball that no other player in MLS can, really. Like this:
"If you hate something that you do, you wake up every morning, you're not looking forward to going into work, whether that's football or a 9-to-5 job,” Keane told the media in attendance after receiving the MVP award earlier this week. “If you don't like what you do, then the battle is probably done already. For me, I wake up every morning looking forward to practice. I wake up every Saturday and Sunday desperate and can't wait to play the game.
“It's not about the money. I don't care about the money. For me, it's about playing. I'd play for free. When I finish playing football, I'll go back to Ireland, I'll be a manager or whatever, and I'll still play on Sunday with my mates. It's just the way I am.”
On the away side, Donovan’s one-time US national team teammate Jermaine Jones was acquired mid-season in New England and the Revolution have scarcely lost a game since the midfielder's arrival.
But it’s Lee Nguyen—who gave Keane a run for his money in the MVP voting—who’s probably been the craftiest, most enjoyable player to watch in the league all year. He’s recently emerged as a US national teamer, perhaps the lone bright spot in the USMNT’s recent run of friendlies.
And Charlie Davies—the former US national teamer who nearly lost his life in a car accident in 2009—finally seems to have found his form again, scoring four goals during the Revolution’s playoff run.