This week, the entire outlook for the end of the MLS season may have changed with the return of a single player. This Los Angeles Galaxy forward is a legend at his club, can be an instrumental player in the attack, and will provide Bruce Arena’s side with some much-needed firepower during the final games of the regular season and into the playoffs. At this point, the main question is: when will he get up to game fitness?
The player, of course, is Robbie Keane.
Sure, Landon Donovan’s surprise return to the Galaxy is huge news, and rightfully so. SI's Grant Wahl and Brian Straus have covered what that could mean for Donovan and his club here and here. However, Donovan’s substitute appearance against Orlando City on Sunday can best be described as “existent.” He was there, he ran around, had a few touches on the ball, and generally looked like a professional soccer player. That’s no small feat, and it should make for compelling viewing to see what Donovan can do in future games with a few more training sessions under his belt.
But if you’re looking for an impact sub for the Galaxy that could have more instant ramifications for the Galaxy’s season, look no further than Keane. The Irishman scored his first goal since July in his 30-minute appearance and generally looked like the kind of scoring threat the Galaxy will need, especially with Gyasi Zardes’s foot injury taking him out of the lineup for a significant portion of time.
It is a well-timed return for Keane, whose troubled season (by his lofty standards) has in many ways mirrored the Galaxy’s struggles with injuries and building a consistent run of results. Keane has dealt with calf, shoulder and knee issues in this campaign, but when he’s played, he’s been quite good, scoring eight goals and adding two assists in 14 games this year. Problem is, the aforementioned injuries and international duty have meant that he hasn’t played more than six games in a row for his team all season.
In the grand scheme of things, the Galaxy have been fine in his absence (as they should be with their abundant talent aside from Keane). LA currently sits second in the West, four points off league-leading FC Dallas. The Galaxy have the fewest losses in the league, but also the most draws. It is here that Keane’s absence has truly been felt. With Keane making an appearance this season, the Galaxy is 8-2-4. Without him, the team is 3-2-10. How many more of those draws would have been wins with one of MLS’s greatest-ever finishers on the field? I’d wager at least one or two, just enough to put LA even closer to, or even past, Dallas in the standings.
So, then, the return of Keane isn’t so much about making a bad team good, but rather about making an already-good team that much better. The Galaxy have flown under the radar this season by sheer virtue of their non-domination of the league most thought would be fodder for an all-time best lineup on paper. If Keane can stay healthy, the Galaxy may come to see that Donovan was the second-most important sub that Bruce Arena made this week.
Offensive player of the week: Giovani Dos Santos, Los Angeles Galaxy
The headlines this week are all about Donovan, and understandably so. But let it be known that Giovani Dos Santos had about as impressive a week as a forward can have. Dos Santos had two goals and an assist in Wednesday’s 3-3 draw with RSL, then followed that up with a two-goal, two-assist performance in his team’s 4-2 domination of Orlando City on Sunday.
Dos Santos said after Sunday’s win that he feels he’s playing better than he ever has in his career before. It’s hard to argue against that.
Defensive player of the week: Axel Sjoberg, Colorado Rapids
Even with Mauro Diaz and Michael Barrios starting on the bench, holding a tremendously deep FC Dallas attacking unit scoreless is no small accomplishment for the Rapids. Sjoberg and central defensive partner Jared Watts were both critical in their own ways, but Sjoberg stood out thanks to his eternally calm demeanor under pressure. Dominique Badji may have gotten the winning goal for Colorado, but Sjoberg and Watts’ contributions were no less important.
1. Toronto FC
Jozy Altidore scored yet again and Toronto FC continued its great run of form with a 2-1 win over Chicago on Saturday night. In the nine games he has played since his return from a hamstring injury, Altidore has scored six goals and added two assists. In those same nine games, Toronto has gone 7-1-1, after a mediocre-at-best start to the season. It’s almost like Altidore is tremendously important!
2. FC Dallas
With Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final looming, Oscar Pareja elected to rest midfielders Michael Barrios and Mauro Diaz in his team’s Saturday home game against Colorado. It’s tempting to blame Dallas’ 1-0 loss on those absences, but this team is deep enough and generated enough chances in this game to win. Instead, the team was dealt a loss that’s more significant than it might seem for a top-of-the-table team like Dallas. With a win it would have clinched a playoff spot and put a stranglehold on the Supporters’ Shield. It also spoils an unbeaten record at home.
3. New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls thought they had three points in the bag going into the 89th minute with a 2-0 lead over D.C. United, but let in two late goals for a gut-punch 2-2 draw on Sunday. The tie won’t just hurt morale, though. Two dropped points means that the team’s grip on a top-two spot in the East and a first-round bye is weakened. There’s still time for the Red Bulls to regain that spot, but that seems unlikely so long as the team continues to give up leads.
4. LA Galaxy
What a couple of weeks it’s been for the Galaxy. The team loses Gyasi Zardes for a significant stretch, shows indifferent form on the field, come away from Salt Lake with point after a wild 3-3 draw on Wednesday, gets the greatest player in MLS history out of retirement to help in the absence of Zardes, then totally dominates Orlando in a 4-2 win on Sunday in primetime. The team seems to have gained momentum at the end of all that, going into the closing stage of the season on a five-game unbeaten run.
5. New York City FC
For as much energy and commitment as NYCFC have showed in recent weeks, Saturday’s 3-1 loss to New England seemed listless and dull for Patrick Vieira’s side. The team allowed 12 shots on target from the Revs while generating only one of their own, and never looked in control of the game despite having the majority of possession.
6. Colorado Rapids
The Rapids needed a big result after losing consecutive games for the first time all season, and that’s what they got with a hugely important 1-0 win at league-leading FC Dallas. The win snapped FC Dallas’ unbeaten record at home, and also puts Colorado just five points off the Supporters’ Shield with two games in hand.
7. Real Salt Lake
It was a disappointing week for RSL after a good series of results had the team within striking distance of the West’s elite. Wednesday’s 3-3 draw at home against LA will be remembered for the team’s comeback from 3-1 down, but Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Portland was simply disappointing. Despite being one of MLS’ better teams, RSL hasn’t gone more than three games without a loss since April 16th.
8. Philadelphia Union
The Union needed three points to stay within range of the Eastern Conference elite, but a late defensive breakdown at home left Philadelphia with a single point to take from a 1-1 draw with Montreal. The missed opportunity for three points at home will sting even more considering that the Union’s next three games are away from Talen Energy Stadium.
9. Seattle Sounders
Nicolas Lodeiro even scores when he doesn’t necessarily intend to. The Uruguayan’s free kick goal sure seemed like it was meant for a teammate’s head instead of the back of the net, but the Sounders will take the goal and the 1-1 draw with San Jose that comes with it. Once left for dead, Seattle has lost only once in its last seven games.
10. D.C. United
It was only a point, but D.C. United’s thrilling comeback draw against the Red Bulls could be the sort of result that propels this team into a good run of form at just the right time. That, or it’ll just motivate the team to keep doing what it has done all year: tie everybody. United is still very much in the playoff hunt, but turning just a couple of draws into wins (instead of losses to draws) would be beneficial.
11. Montreal Impact
In the space of one week, the Impact showed why you should not believe in them as a threat in the playoffs, and why you actually might have to after all. Montreal was thoroughly dominated at home against Orlando on Wednesday, but followed up that lackadaisical performance with a gritty 1-1 draw at Philadelphia in which the tying goal game in the 88th minute. When Montreal is firing on all cylinders, it's tough to stop. But how often is that the case?
12. Portland Timbers
Darlington Nagbe’s return to the Portland lineup proved to be beneficial, as the midfielder’s nearly-flawless distribution set up the Timbers for a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake at Providence Park. Fanendo Adi got the game’s only goal early on, and the Timbers will be disappointed that they didn’t score more. Still, though, it’s a big three points for a team currently occupying the final playoff spot in the West.
13. Sporting Kansas City
It seems unlikely at this point that SKC will miss the playoffs, but if it does, look at this week’s 3-3 home draw with league doormat Houston as a big reason why. Sporting let a lead slip twice, with Raul Rodriguez’s stoppage-time goal evening the score and giving SKC a point that’ll feel like a loss. Even assuming the club maintains its playoff spot, its seeding surely took a hit with these two lost points.
14. Orlando City SC
Orlando took advantage of every opportunity it was given in an impressive 4-1 win at Montreal on Thursday, but then couldn’t find a way to break down the Galaxy in a 4-2 loss at StubHub Center on Sunday. Still, three points from this week’s road trip ain’t bad, especially since those points put Orlando in the final playoff spot in the East.
15. New England Revolution
Kei Kamara missed last week’s game on international duty with Sierra Leone, and the Revs compensated by moving Lee Nguyen up to forward alongside Juan Agudelo and playing Kellyn Rowe in his natural spot behind the forwards. The lineup worked wonders then, and it did the same this week in a dominating 3-1 win over NYCFC. All of a sudden, the Revs are looking much more like the team that’s given teams across MLS problems for the last three years (and just in time for the U.S. Open Cup final). But where will Kamara fit in when he returns?
16. San Jose Earthquakes
The Earthquakes played well enough to win Saturday’s game against Seattle, generating more chances on goal and taking an early lead via Chris Wondolowski, now the only player in league history with seven straight double-digit goal seasons. However, a defensive lapse on a free kick gave the Sounders a goal, and the Quakes came away with a single point. Five points out of a playoff spot and with a brutal schedule coming up, San Jose needs to become way more decisive in attack if they expect to still be playing in late October.
17. Houston Dynamo
Interim Dynamo coach Wade Barrett got a little emotional in the press conference following this weekend’s game at Sporting Kansas City, and it’s easy to understand why. The Dynamo, all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, showed great fight and determination to earn a 3-3 draw at the death in one of MLS’s toughest environments. “I know where we are in the standings, but every single game matters to me,” Barrett said afterward. The improving Dynamo are rewarding Barrett’s dedication.
18. Chicago Fire
Midseason addition Michael de Leeuw scored for the third consecutive week, but Chicago fell to Toronto FC thanks an uncharacteristically bad blunder by goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Chicago still isn’t a very good team, but has looked much better since de Leeuw’s arrival, and that could mean good things going forward. However, those things likely won’t actually happen until next season.
19. Vancouver Whitecaps
A week after a nightmare outing, Erik Hurtado finally got on the scoresheet as Vancouver got a 3-1 win over Columbus at Mapfre Stadium. After conceding an early goal, the much-maligned Vancouver defense did well to hold Columbus’ attack, allowing Hurtado to polish off the win after Andrew Jacobsen’s 74th-minute winner. It’s the Whitecaps’ first win in nearly two months.
20. Columbus Crew SC
Columbus had to deal with a 90-minute weather delay before getting its game with Vancouver underway, then had to adjust to the wet conditions at MAPFRE Stadium afterwards. Still, a home game is a home game, and the Crew should be disappointed in a 3-1 loss to one of the league’s most underperforming teams. On the plus side, Ola Kamara snapped a seven-game scoreless drought.