Landon Donovan goal, assist lead LA Galaxy past Sporting KC

2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy
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When Sporting Kansas City came out with their typical intensity, viewers were in for an early show at Home Depot Center, last year’s first place finishers in the East intent on going toe-to-toe with MLS’s two-time defending champions. But with Sporting making no changes from the team that played in New Jersey mid-week, you also knew they were likely to get caught. Eventually they’d slow down. Eventually they’d fade. Eventually their quick turnaround would catch up with them.

And two times on Saturday, it did. In the first half, Los Angeles’s league-best counterattack was on display while halting Sporting’s scoreless streak at 546 minutes, Marcelo Sarvas easily tapping in a Landon Donovan pass sent across the six. In the second half, another counter doubled LA’s lead, with Donovan recording his first goal of the year to give the Galaxy their 2-0 win.

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The final score could have been much worse. As Donovan noted post-match, the Galaxy’s early execution in the final third was lacking, players like Jack McBean one touch away from ending Kansas City’s streak much earlier. By match’s end, the Galaxy were countering at will, with one standout chance ending when Robbie Keane embarrassingly dribbled into Jimmy Nielsen, killing a one-on-one.

Although Kansas City entered the much-hyped showdown unbeaten in five, the game only highlighted the gap between the Galaxy, who again looked like the best team in the league, and Sporting, a team that’s failed to meet expectations in recent postseasons. In a game billed as a battle of powers, Kansas City were decidedly the less powerful, their early energy fading proving ultimately ineffectual.

Kansas City finished the match with only two shots on goal. According to ESPN stats guru Pete Carr, they were held to a season-low three completed crosses. In the first half, they only had three touches in the Galaxy penalty area (LA had 17). The match’s was more lopsided than its final score.

Fatigue was certainly a factor, the Galaxy on full rest while Kansas City was playing their second match in four days, but it’s not too naïve to note teams have to face a number of challenges on their way to championships. Sometimes they’re injured. Sometimes they’re fatigued. Other times it’s bad luck. Often the ability to overcome a particular hurdle is less important than the willingness to transcend any hurdle. Kansas City has yet to get to that point.

Having won two straight titles, LA’s clearly there, though on a night when Landon Donovan notched a goal and an assist, it’s worth nothing what obstacles they’ve already overcome this season. They were famously without their captain throughout the preseason, and they’ve also elected to keep their third designated player spot open until the summer, declining to immediately replace David Beckham. These aren’t the same, enormous challenges they faced last year after a slow start highlighted the absence of Omar Gonzalez, but most teams in the league would be seriously derailed after a shakeup within their top talent (look at Seattle).

After Saturday’s win, LA has 11 points in six games, good for second in the West. They also have a productive Donovan, something that wasn’t necessarily the case during his season’s first appearances. Playing in midfield while Keane and McBean started up top, Donovan was the key to LA’s decisive counterattacking, both springing the team out of their end as well as making long runs to join the attacks. Although he confessed post-match that he was tired while running onto his goal, Donovan looks to have shaken off the rust.

It was all part of one of the most convincing team performances of the season, one that should give pundits pause before filling out their weekly rankings of power. Dallas has the league’s best record, and teams like Houston and Sporting have more points, but is there really any doubt which team is Major League Soccer’s best? After Saturday, there shouldn’t be.