It's not often that a sports legend has the chance to go out on top. When one of those opportunities comes around, you don't want to miss it.
Los Angeles Galaxy star and U.S. soccer hero Landon Donovan is one game away from winning the 2014 MLS Cup and wrapping up an amazing playing career with a final piece of silverware.
Donovan, who is the all-time leading goalscorer in MLS history, announced he would retire from the game at the end of the 2014 season back in August.
Standing in his way are the New England Revolution, a resolute squad that boasts midfield stars in Jermaine Jones—a U.S. national team stalwart—and Lee Nguyen, who slotted home 18 regular-season goals this year.
The Galaxy are in the final thanks to a second-half goal from Juninho in a 2-1 road loss to the Seattle Sounders—winners of the Supporters' Shield—that leveled the scoring on aggregate at 2-2 and sent Los Angeles through via the away-goals rule.
New England defeated the New York Red Bulls 4-3 on aggregate in their two-leg Eastern Conference Final. The second match was a dazzling affair, a 2-2 draw at Gillette Stadium that could very well have been the final game for Red Bulls and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. Striker Charlie Davies was the Revs hero, scoring a goal on either side of halftime to power his side through to the final.
Here is a look at the 2014 MLS Cup Final viewing info, followed by a game preview and prediction for the outcome.
Date: Sunday, Dec. 7
Time (ET): 3 p.m.
Location: StubHub Center, Carson, California
Preview and Prediction
Donovan is aware the stars appear to be aligning for him as he gets set to take to the field at StubHub Center as a player one last time.
"It seems perfect, yeah," he said via Michael McColl of MLSSoccer.com. "But we've got to win it. That's our challenge. We're playing a team that I think is the best team in the league the last 10 or 12 games, so it's going to be a challenge."
The Galaxy appear to be a much stronger unit based on goal differential.
|Los Angeles Galaxy, New England Revolution: 2014 Regular Season|
Indeed, the Galaxy defeated the Revolution 5-1 during the regular season, a discouraging result that may linger in the minds of New England fans. However, they are a much better team than the one that fell so easily to the Galaxy back in July.
The Revolution came out with so many points by winning the close contests and securing seven victories in their final nine contests. The Galaxy were guilty of playing down to their competition at times. With so many talented players, there really is no excuse for that.
Donovan leads the league in assists with 19, Robbie Keane found the back of the net 19 times and Gyasi Zardes came into his own as a slippery attacking threat. Center-back Omar Gonzalez also had another fine year commanding the back line.
Still, this team has to be wary of a New England squad that is putting the pieces together at the right time.
Davies was the big hero for the Revolution in the Easter Conference decider, but as MLSSoccer.com's Matthew Doyle notes, his movement and pace don't always mean he is the main scoring threat:
Davies does most of his damage either on the break (hello, Columbus!) or by working strictly between the center backs. He'll flare to the touchlines if New England need him in possession, but for the most part his best bet is to make those darting, gap-splitting north-south runs between defenders to pull them out of Zone 14 – i.e., Nguyen's neighborhood. He is, first and foremost, a decoy.
The Revolution's athleticism and skill in midfield are something to be feared, especially if Davies is doing his job by occupying the likes of Gonzalez in central defense.
Jones, having come over from Besiktas in August, can work the field from box to box with ease. He also has plenty of big-game experience after playing in the UEFA Champions League with Schalke 04 of Germany's Bundesliga.
Nguyen wasn't much of a goalscoring threat prior to this season, but he has the ability to make darting runs into the box and tally the occasional wonder strike. The Galaxy must also keep an eye on Teal Bunbury making runs and hanging on the back line.
Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas and company will be hard-pressed to contain the Revs' midfielder, but he should be able to hold his own. One area where the Galaxy can attack the Revs is down the left flank. Robbie Rogers combines well with Donovan, and challenging second-year right-back Andrew Farrell could be the key to opening up the Revs' defense.
Much of the core from the Galaxy's cup-winning team in 2012 will take the pitch on Sunday. The experience, combined with the emotional charge of Donovan's last game and the friendly confines of the StubHub Center should see the Galaxy take the championship and send Donovan off in a manner befitting his legendary career.
Prediction: Los Angeles 2-1 New England