CARSON, Calif. – In the weeks that preceded Landon Donovan’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the 2014 season; there were whispers about the forward’s productivity.
Sure, the Galaxy stalwart took home the MVP award at the MLS All-Star Game for his game-winner against German club Bayern Munich, but he had managed just one goal and three assists during a 10-game stretch from June 8 to Aug. 18. That last performance, a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Crew may have been the wakeup call that Donovan needed because the whispers have since been silenced by cheers.
Since that match at Crew Stadium, Donovan has scored in the Galaxy’s last three matches while also adding three assists to propel the Galaxy to a three-game winning streak. The 32-year-old was at his best again on Wednesday as he scored a goal and notched two assists to lead LA to a convincing 4-1 victory over Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United.
With just 10 games remaining in his MLS regular season career, it’s impossible not to notice that Donovan is playing a freedom not seen around the StubHub Center pitch in years.
“I am enjoying it. I realize very clearly that there’s only so many more chances to do this,” Donovan told reporters after the victory over D.C. United. “The decision to retire and playing this way are intricately linked, and that’s giving me freedom to relax and enjoy it and it’s taking all the pressure off and that’s when I play my best. It’s been a lot of fun, I am enjoying it and most of all I like winning.”
Donovan’s improved form has not gone unnoticed by head coach Bruce Arena, who admits Donovan has hit his stride since announcing that he’ll be hanging up his iconic Galaxy No. 10 jersey at the end of the year.
"Landon is obviously committed to completing his career in the right manner, his leadership and quality tonight was terrific, what more can you say,” said Arena. “He has been great, his attitude has been terrific over the last two or three weeks after his announcement. We are really happy for him, and certainly he has been an important part of our success over the last couple months."
Against United, Donovan not only provided the type of darting runs in midfield that have become staples of his illustrious career, but he also showcased a different element. With Robbie Keane unavailable due to injury, Donovan slotted into the Keane role seamlessly, cutting into the midfield to retrieve possession and pull the strings in the center of the park.
As good as Donovan has been individually, however, he attributes his success to an LA offense that has managed 16 goals in the past month.
“I would say that the guys around me have made it very easy on me lately. Juninho and Marcelo [Sarvas] have been excellent, Stefan [Ishizaki] and Baggio [Husidic], whoever has played there have been excellent … Gyasi [Zardes] [as well],” said Donovan. “I’m trying to put myself in good spots and make good plays and the guys are helping me out a lot.”
Donovan’s freedom on the field may yet result not only in further team accolades but a personal one as well. With his two assists against United, Donovan sits just eight assists behind New England Revolution ironman Steve Ralson’s all-time assist mark of 135 with 10 games remaining.
Although yet another record is in his sights, the in-form striker insists he has greater goals in mind.
“[The all-time assist record] would be cool, but as long as we keep winning then I’m happy,” Donovan said. “We see [the Supporters’ Shield] in our sights and we want to make a push for it…there’s every chance that we can get there.”