For over two thirds of the current Major League Soccer (MLS) season, the headlines in North American football were dominated by DC United, the surprise package of the campaign. The team from the capital city Washington was back in the limelight after a number of years of mediocrity. But the club then suffered a setback in their 25th game when they came up against an inspired Landon Donovan. The 32-year old top star of US football has found peak form in the last weeks of his fantastic career. The offensive midfielder provided the assists for the first three goals in the 4-1 (3-0) win in the match of the day for Los Angeles Galaxy against DC United on Wednesday (27 August). He then capped his performance by slotting home the fourth from the spot to secure the points.
Shortly before the match, Donovan, who once played for Leverkusen and Bayern München in the Bundesliga and Everton in the Premier League, was nominated by national coach Jürgen Klinsmann for the international friendly against Ecuador in East Hartford (Connecticut) on 10 October. It will mark Donovan’s farewell appearance for the US national team for which he won 156 caps. His 57 goals make him his country’s all-time record scorer. He however was not selected by Klinsmann for the FIFA World Cup which duly led to a heated debate amongst the country’s football fans.
Appearing to want to show Klinsmann that he had made the wrong decision, Donovan has been in consummate form for a while now. He will hang up his boots at the end of the season but will remain at Galaxy in another role. “Donovan has played a massive part in the rise of American football,” is how the renowned magazine Sports Illustrated described the importance of the Californian. He showed just how valuable he was for his team in the StubHub Center in Carson (California) against DC United. Los Angeles, champions in 2011 and 2012, put the capital city club in their place as they had done New England, Seattle, Portland, San Jose and Vancouver in the six weeks before.
“I realise very clearly that there’s only so many more chances to show people in what good form I’m in,” said Donovan. “My decision to retire and playing this way are intricately linked. It’s given me freedom to relax and enjoy it and it’s taken all the pressure off and that’s why I can play my best,” he explained. Thanks to his performances, Galaxy, which got off to a slow start to the season, has extended its excellent run to 16 games with just one defeat. It has catapulted the team, where the former US national coach Bruce Arena is in charge, up to third in the overall table (Western and Eastern Conference together). Topping the league is Seattle Sounders followed by DC United in second.
The team from Washington is heading the Eastern Conference with 43 points from 25 games ahead of champions Kansas City (42/24). United won the recent top of the table clash 3-0 away at Kansas to underline their ambitions of reaching the play-offs. It was something the four-time champions in the MLS beginnings had only managed once (2012) in their last six seasons. Their win in Kansas after one of their best performances for years enabled them to take over from Sporting at the top of the Eastern Conference. But then four days later United was brought down to earth by Galaxy and Donovan.
Lagging behind DC United and Kansas in third in the Eastern Conference table is FC Toronto, Canada’s best team so far, on 33 points from 23 games. Equal on points Columbus Crew (25 games) and the New York Red Bulls (31points from 24) are hot on Toronto’s heels. Everything is so close that a lot can happen right up to the final game of regular season at the end of October. There’s also little separating New York from sixth-placed New England Revolution (30/24) and Philadelphia Union (30/25) in seventh. Five teams qualify for the knock-out stage to determine the 2014 champions. Chicago Fire (26/24) and Houston Dynamo (25/24) have not yet given up hope. Well down the table with little hope is Montreal Impact (17/24) who have fallen behind after a good start.
New England, the team from Foxborough close to Boston, has strengthened its team by signing the former Schalke player Jermaine Jones. Capped 46 times for USA, the 32-year old, who has also played for Germany’s senior team, was encouraged to move from Besiktas Istanbul to Massachusetts by Klinsmann. Jones has a contract until the end of 2015 with an option for another year.
Leading the Western Conference is Seattle Sounders (45/24) ahead of Los Angeles (43/24), FC Dallas (42/25), Real Salt Lake (42/25) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (33/24). Here again the five play-off places are also hotly contested. Portland Timbers (31/25) and the Colorado Rapids, the 2011 champions, are still in with a chance whilst the leading club for many years, the San Jose Earthquakes have a difficult task ahead of them, as do MLS minnows Chivas USA, if they are to reach the knock-out stage.