CARSON, Calif. — When Landon Donovan’s career ends Sunday, it will also mark the end of one of Major League Soccer’s best partnerships. He and Robbie Keane have scored 83 goals and added 78 assists in league play between the two of them since Keane joined the LA Galaxy in 2011.
Their chemistry has been as expected from two top players, building early as each learned the other’s movements on and off the ball. In Keane’s MVP 2014 season, four of his 19 goals came off Donovan’s assist; for Donovan, four of his goals were from Keane’s pass -- two came on May 25, as Donovan scored twice in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union to push past Jeff Cunningham on the all-time regular-season goal list.
In the MLS playoffs, that partnership exploded in a 5-0 home win over Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals. Donovan scored his first career playoff hat trick, with two assists from Keane, and Keane also added a goal, with an assist from Donovan.
“It’s been an absolute honor to play with him,” Keane said on Friday during the MLS Cup final press conference. “The understanding that both of us have on the field — I think the goal is that both of us score an assist that we’ve provided for each other — has been absolutely fantastic over these last four years. It’s certainly up there with the best partnerships I’ve had.”
It’s also up there with some of the most successful pairings of club teammates in the sport’s history, at least by some metrics. According to Peter Hirdt at the Elias Sports Bureau, Keane and Donovan are just the second pair of club teammates with 50 or more goals each for their respective national teams. The other pair was Ferenc Puskás and Sándor Kocsis, teammates on both Budapest Honvéd and the Hungarian national team during the Mighty Magyars era in the 1950s. Kocsis scored 11 goals, including two hat tricks, as top scorer at the 1954 World Cup, and Puskás is one of the best players in football history whose name is on the FIFA trophy for best goal scored annually.
With his 57 goals, Donovan will retire as the top goalscorer for the United States, while Keane’s international career continues on 65 goals. Puskás scored 84 goals for Hungary, while Kocsis put up 75.
Together at Honvéd, Puskás and Kocsis won three Hungarian league titles, in 1952, 1954 and 1955. So far, Keane and Donovan have won two MLS Cups together in Los Angeles, their back-to-back trophies in 2011 and 2012.
They have a chance at a third on Sunday, when they host the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup final. It holds special meaning as Donovan’s last professional match, but if the Galaxy doesn’t win, it also slightly dulls the shine on Keane’s MVP award, the forward said.
“It’s always nice to win awards, especially to be given by fellow professionals and the media,” he said, “but it wouldn’t mean as much to me, to be honest with you, if we didn’t win the championship on Sunday.”
If they can connect at least once more during that game, it might be a fitting end to a spectacular partnership.