Landon Donovan's splendid hat trick propels Galaxy over Real Salt Lake

Landon Donovan netted a hat trick as the Los Angeles Galaxy thrashed Real Salt Lake, 5-0, to advance to the Western Conference finals of the MLS playoffs.
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Landon Donovan had a hat trick and an assist, and the LA Galaxy blitzed Real Salt Lake 5-0 in the second leg of their MLS quarterfinal on Sunday night (advancing 5-0 on aggregate). After a dip in form over the past three weeks, the Galaxy played some brilliant soccer on Sunday, none more than the interplay between Donovan and Robbie Keane (who had one goal and three assists of his own).

LA isn’t the only team that can win this Cup, but the Galaxy do have a higher ceiling than anyone else in MLS. They hit those heights to obliterate an RSL team that has a lot of talent, experience and pride.

Here are my three thoughts on the game:

1.What more can you say about Donovan?

In producing the first MLS playoff hat trick since Columbus’ Stern John in 1999, Donovan was devastating from the opening whistle, unleashing a mix of speed, positional instincts and finishing poise as he combined flawlessly with his teammates. Keep in mind, LA wasn’t playing the Montreal Impact here. This was a very good Salt Lake team that held LA in check last week. But Donovan abused Tony Beltran and then (along with Keane) took full advantage as the game opened up in the second half. If LA can get through the next three games, Donovan could end his playing career with a championship on his home field. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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2. The other LA guys were pretty good too

GyasiZardes had a rough game for LA, but just about everyone else on the Galaxy made the little (and big) plays that mattered. Whether it was Juninho’s through-ball that unlocked the defense for goal No. 2, Marcelo Sarvas’s presence of mind on his goal or Keane’s smarts to run back onside (by inches) before taking Donovan’s feed for his goal. the Galaxy were meticulous the entire night. Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo didn’t have as much to do on Sunday as he did in the first leg, but he stopped whatever came his way. Bruce Arena is known as the ultimate man-manager in U.S. soccer, and that came through loud and clear here, as LA responded to last week’s ho-hum performance by coming out on a mission from the start.

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3. What next for Salt Lake?

Are we finally going to see an impressive chapter end in Utah? Jason Kreis left as coach after last season, and front-office maestro Garth Lagerwey is out of contract at the end of this season. Many of RSL’s top players are pushing or exceeding age 30, and while most MLS watchers agree that this team has played some of the league’s best soccer in recent years, it hasn’t produced a trophy (MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup or Supporters Shield) in any of the last five. Lagerwey, a master of making things work on a small budget, should be in significant demand on the open market. If I were an MLS owner I’d take him in a heartbeat.