Although Landon Donovan radiated his usual outer confidence, he confided a fear to his LA Galaxy teammates during warmups for their win-or-else playoff showdown with Real Salt Lake.
"He was saying, `I don’t want this to be my last game,’" defender Omar Gonzalez recalled. "I said, `It’s not going to be.’"
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Not by a long shot — or three.
Thanks to Donovan’s hat trick, his career and the Galaxy’s MLS title quest are rolling forward.
Donovan scored three goals and set up Robbie Keane’s goal, propelling the Galaxy into the Western Conference finals with a 5-0 victory Sunday night.
Donovan has announced he will retire after the season, but the most accomplished player in U.S. history is far from finished. He extended his own MLS record to 25 career playoff goals and left to a standing ovation.
"None of us want to go home early," said Donovan, who believes a title motivates his team much more than his pending retirement.
"This is a team that’s used to winning, so perhaps there was a tiny little added incentive, but that’s not what guys are playing for," Donovan added. "Guys are playing because they want to win a trophy, and that showed tonight."
Donovan extended his career for at least three more weeks with a brilliant effort for the four-time MLS Cup champion Galaxy, who haven’t lost at home in 17 games since March 8.
In two weeks, the Galaxy will face the winner of the league-leading Sounders’ series with FC Dallas, which concludes Monday night in Seattle.
Donovan scored the Galaxy’s first goal in the 10th minute, and he added his 13th career postseason assist on a pass to Keane, the Galaxy captain. Keane then set up two second-half goals for Donovan on remarkable passes.
"I had fun, and I wanted to have fun tonight," Donovan said. "If this was going to be my last game, I told my girlfriend that I want to have fun and I want to enjoy it. More often than not, when I enjoy it, I play well."
Keane had three assists in the second half before hopping on a postgame plane to Ireland’s next international match. Marcelo Sarvas added a goal and an assist while contributing outstanding midfield play for the Galaxy.
LA thoroughly controlled possession while embarrassing Real, who eliminated the Galaxy from the postseason twice in the past five years.
"We ran across a team that was fantastic on the evening," Real coach Jeff Cassar said. "We could never regain control of the ball. We lost our shape, our discipline."
The clubs played to a scoreless draw in Utah last week with a brilliant performance by Galaxy goalie Jaime Penedo, who was barely tested in the rematch.
Donovan abruptly put the Galaxy on top with an emphatic header on a pass from Sarvas. Just 10 minutes later, Keane capitalized on another sloppy bit of Real defending by hustling back onside just in time to smack home a pass from Donovan in the box.
The Galaxy were thoroughly in control heading into the second half, and it only got better. In the 54th minute, Keane slotted a difficult pass between two defenders to a sprinting Donovan, who rounded goalie Nick Rimando and scored.
Donovan completed the hat trick on another chip from Keane in the 72nd minute.
"It’s pretty amazing a player like him can have a game of that quality, and he’s going to be done in a month," LA defender Robbie Rogers said. "I don’t think any of us were worried about this being Landon’s last game."