CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Landon Donovan grabbed Robbie Keane in a triumphant midfield hug right before Donovan’s girlfriend leaped into his arms. Moments later, Donovan and Keane raised the silver trophy together amid fireworks and a confetti blizzard.
Throughout his remarkable soccer career, Donovan always did know how to finish.
One last time, he did it as a champion.
Keane scored on a breakaway in the 111th minute, and Donovan retired with his record sixth MLS title when the LA Galaxy beat the New England Revolution 2-1 on Sunday in the MLS Cup.
Gyasi Zardes scored in the 52nd minute as the Galaxy won their record fifth league title in the final game for Donovan, the MLS career scoring leader and most accomplished player in U.S. history.
“I’m in a little bit of a daze,” Donovan said, still champagne-soaked after the celebration of the Galaxy’s third league title in four years. “There’s a lot going on. A lot of obvious excitement. There’s sadness. Uncertainty. Just pure joy for this team and what we did. It just feels strange, but I’m so proud what this team accomplished this year.”
Donovan, Keane and the Galaxy have celebrated three times on their home field, the first two with David Beckham. Retiring with his skills largely still formidable, Donovan followed in Beckham’s footsteps by leaving on top, wrapping his 14-year MLS career with six titles, including two with San Jose.
“He’s done it all,” said coach Bruce Arena, who won his record fifth MLS title. “He’s got very little left to give. I’m so happy he’s made this decision. He’s able to go out a winner.”
But not without drama.
After Chris Tierney scored the tying goal in the 79th minute for New England, both teams had golden opportunities in extra time — including a tantalizingly close free kick for Donovan, who sailed it over the bar.
But Keane capped his MVP season in the second period of extra time when Marcelo Sarvas lobbed a long pass to the Irish striker, who was nearly unmarked. He gathered it and beat Bobby Shuttleworth with the same poise he showed throughout his 19-goal regular season, celebrating with his usual cartwheel and finger guns.
“We weren’t going into the game thinking about (Donovan),” Keane said. “(But) if we won a championship for him, no one deserves to go out on a high as much as he does. It’s a great honor to play with him.”
The 32-year-old Donovan announced his retirement in August, saying he had lost passion for soccer and hungered to find his identity outside the sport.
The Southern California native took a slow postgame tour of the StubHub Center field, a Galaxy scarf draped around his neck, waving at a sellout crowd loudly chanting “One more year!”
“Could I play longer physically? Yeah, probably,” Donovan said. “But this feels right to me. It’s always better to retire than get cut, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Despite an outstanding second half and several extra-time chances, New England lost the MLS Cup for the fifth time — including three times to the Galaxy on extra-time goals. Keane followed in the footsteps of Carlos Ruiz, who beat the Revs in 2002, and Guillermo Ramirez, who did it in 2005.
“It’s tough that we were a part of his storybook ending, but the guy deserves everything,” New England coach Jay Heaps said of Donovan.
After a scoreless first half, Zardes — another Southern California product — erased his late-season slump when he settled a cross from Stefan Ishizaki slotted it past Shuttleworth.
But right before desperation set in, New England equalized when substitute Patrick Mullins got past Leonardo and Omar Gonzalez on a frantic run before chipping back to Tierney, who beat Jaime Penedo and silenced the crowd.
“I thought we were the aggressor today a lot of the time,” Heaps said. “Of course, they’ve got great players and they deserve everything. No one gave us a chance. I thought our guys rallied around that and we were pretty good on the day.”
Teal Bunbury pinged a chip shot off Penedo’s crossbar in the 85th minute, missing a trophy-winning goal by inches.
“It’s tough,” Bunbury said. “You go the whole season pursuing a goal and a dream to win a championship. Everyone was pushing each other, so I couldn’t be more proud right now. (But) it is devastating and disappointing for all the fans that came out.”
Penedo made a difficult stop on a shot by Mullins in the first extra-time period. New England pressed after Keane’s goal, but Penedo made another huge save on Mullins before the final whistle.
The Revolution had lost just once in their previous 16 games, and they’ll head into next season with the core of a contender built around Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen, who were both fairly quiet in the final.
The Galaxy haven’t lost at home since their season opener, but they’ll open next season with a fundamentally different look without Donovan.
“This is my hometown, and I used to really look up to Landon, and I still do,” Zardes said. “It’s amazing that he gets to retire as a champion.”