Both players look set to call time on their stint in California
It’s a tradition, as it is in most major league American sports, that the winners of the MLS Cup visit the White House for a reception with the President.
The same routine is observed every time - Barack Obama lifts the trophy, poses with a shirt, complete with his name printed on the back, smiles and makes a few quips about a sport he admits to knowing little about. By 2014, though, he must have remembered a few of the Galaxy players by name.
Bruce Arena’s side made the trip to the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a champions reception three times in just four years between 2011 and 2014, becoming North American football’s predominant side. For a time, Major League Soccer was ultimately decided by whether the LA Galaxy could find a way to lose their grip, rather than whether anyone else could take it from them. Robbie Keane was a central component of their dynasty.
Netting 83 times in just 125 appearances, Keane will go down as a bona fide club legend. The Galaxy collected quite the haul with the Irishman leading the line, winning the MLS Cup three times and the Supporters’ Shield once. The David Beckham years might have shone a brighter spotlight on the LA Galaxy, and on MLS in general, but the Keane years were just as successful.
The dynasty has come to its natural conclusion, though. The Galaxy have performed below expectations in the play-offs for two successive seasons now, with the Colorado Rapids eliminating them from the Western Conference semi-finals last week. Arena must rebuild his side and Keane, along with Steven Gerrard, are unlikely to be a part of that reconstruction.
Both players (whose contracts expire next month) are expected to leave the Galaxy over the winter, with Gerrard already bidding farewell to LA on his Instagram page. Keane has been rather more coy, but with the Carson club looking to start again from the ground up, and the Irishman in need of a new challenge, it suits both parties to go their separate ways.
Gerrard will be remembered as one of the most disappointing Designated Players in the history of MLS. Arriving as a Premier League great, he never settled into an LA Galaxy team that frankly were better off without him. His commitment was questioned, flying back and forth across the Atlantic to continue his work as a television pundit in England, and the glimpses of his ability over his 18 months Stateside were few and far too far between.
Image: Los Angeles Galaxy's Robbie Keane celebrates his goal with Steven Gerrard during the second half of an MLS soccer match against the San Jose Earthquakes (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
But Gerrard’s failure only highlights just how highly thought of Keane is. Anyone who has watched the LA Galaxy over the past four years will have witnessed just how dedicated the striker was to the task at hand. That, of course, has been a hallmark of Keane’s throughout his career, but while Gerrard never quite bought into life in MLS, his Irish team-mate thrived on it.
Keane was one of the best Designated Players the league has ever seen. He was named MVP in 2014 and was named four times to MLS’ Best XI - this year will be the first time he has missed out. It’s a shame that he will likely leave the LA Galaxy in the off-season, because he would have been given the kind of send off afforded to both Beckham and Landon Donovan after they played their last game for the club. They will at least save on ticker-tape.
2015 was viewed as a transitional year for the LA Galaxy, yet 2016 saw them undergo an existential shift. They are no longer considered top dogs in the way they were not so long ago. Others now have a loud bark. This is also reflected in the relative decline of Keane, once an irrepressible terrier of a player, but now consigned to sitting on the bench towards the end of the season.
It’s not just that the LA Galaxy need change, but Keane also requires a new target. Something to aim for, because he has already achieved everything there is to achieve at Stub Hub Center. His recent comments hint at a Stateside stay, although it has also been suggested that he could return for a stint in the League of Ireland. Wherever he’s playing next season, the 36-year-old deserves to make the choice which suits him, nobody else, best.
With Keane and Gerrard’s expected departure leaving two Designated Player spots free, big names will arrive at the LA Galaxy over the winter, as the club recalibrates and points itself in a new direction. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has already been linked with a move to California, with the rumour mill sure to churn out more speculation between now and the start of the 2017 season.
But if the Galaxy are trying to replace Keane, that is a task that they will find that rather difficult, if not impossible.