The Los Angeles Galaxy will be at the center of the American soccer universe on Sunday, as perhaps the most iconic player in U.S. soccer plays out his swan song in the 2014 MLS Cup final.
Landon Donovan—the all-time leading scorer in the history of both MLS and the U.S. national team—will walk out onto the pitch at StubHub Center in Los Angeles for the last time as a player.
Having already played his last game for the Stars and Stripes, the MLS Cup final serves as an opportunity for the player whose career is most associated with the growth of soccer in the United States to go out on top with another MLS championship.
Standing in his way are the New England Revolution, an athletic, hardworking team spearheaded by insatiable midfielder Jermaine Jones—a fixture on the U.S. national team—and Lee Nguyen, an attacking midfielder wrapping up a career year with his club.
The Revolution clinched a berth in the final with a 4-3 aggregate win over Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls. It is their first trip to the Cup final since 2007.
The Galaxy defeated the Supporters Shield-winning Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference finals on away goals (2-2 aggregate). It's the Galaxy's fourth trip to the league championship in the last six years.
Here is the television schedule and game info for the MLS Cup final, followed by some predictions for the contest.
2014 MLS Cup Final Info
Date: Sunday, Dec. 7
Time (ET): 3 p.m.
Location: StubHub Center, Carson, California
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Robbie Keane Will Directly Contribute to a Goal
All eyes will be on Donovan, but it's the man up front who could very well have the biggest impact on the game. Keane, the indomitable Irishman, won the league's MVP award by posting 19 goals and 14 assists in 29 appearances. He credited his excellent play this season to his passion for 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."
ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas had this to say about his impact as a designated player:
He's the focal point of the attack, combining well with the likes of Donovan, Marcelo Savas and Gyasi Zardes, and he is a constant source of energy for his team.
Keane is no stranger to big moments, having played for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and captaining the Irish national team. Look for him, not Donovan, to notch either a goal or an assist in this contest.
Jones Will Play Well—and Get Carded
Jones has had a huge impact on the Revolution. His experience, strength and two-way ability have transformed this team. In 14 appearances with New England, he's notched three goals, four assists and four yellow cards.
He's also averaging 2.3 tackles per game and 1.7 interceptions, per WhoScored.com. His experiments at center back with the U.S. national team will have sharpened his defensive instincts, so look for him to be disruptive early on.
He doesn't have a bad track record for discipline since joining the Revs in August, but Jones has earned a reputation for picking up cards with the U.S. national team—although ESPN's Paul Carr noted he turned that trend around recently:
Jones is a confident tackler, but look for him to get into trouble trying to contain the movement of Zardes, Keane and the rest, especially with all the adrenaline coursing through his veins due to the nature of the contest. A yellow card will dampen his impact on the defensive end and allow the Galaxy to create more scoring opportunities.
Galaxy Will Win the Cup
The Galaxy and coach Bruce Arena have been in these big games before, and the esteemed head coach's strategies should work well against a team that runs through the midfield. MLSSoccer.com's Matthew Doyle explains what most opposing team's attacks are reduced to against Los Angeles:
Depending upon who's closest to the play and the coach's overall mandate – 'force a bad, hopeful pass toward Omar' is the usual method these days, though occasionally we'll see 'Marcelo, be the second man in and win the ball at the stripe' – the rest of the team's movement unfolds naturally.
Indeed, center back Omar Gonzales is more than capable of stifling the Revolution's fluid offense, while Savas does an excellent job of tracking back from his midfield spot.
Jones and Nguyen are well supported by the likes of Teal Bunbury and Charlie Davies—who notched a brace in the Revs' second-leg match against the Red Bulls—in attack, but the Galaxy should be able to create more chances.
Working Donovan and Robbie Rogers down the flanks would be a wise strategy for Arena should Jones break up play in midfield, but expect second-year full-back Andrew Farrell to make life difficult for them.
"Farrell's been excellent since day one. I really enjoy how much he competes. That's what gets lost in it. He's a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of guy. He loves training, he loves practices, he loves games and you love seeing that from a player," said Revs head coach Jay Heaps, via Goal.com's Ives Galarcep.
The Revolution can't always count on a wonder strike from Nguyen, but they should be able to get on the scoresheet in this one. However, the Galaxy will create more chances and get the necessary goals, giving Donovan a fairytale ending to his career.
Prediction: Galaxy 2-1 Revolution