By Kevin Baxter
6:35 PM CDT, October 26, 2013
Robbie Keane has been playing professional soccer half his life.
Playing well, too, having scored more than 250 times for club and country while serving as captain for Ireland in World Cup qualifying, winning a league cup in the United Kingdom and capturing two Major League Soccer titles with the Galaxy.
So if anyone has earned the right to knock off work a little early, it’s Keane. Instead, he was the last one off the field after training last week, outlasting even the coaching staff.
“You should always have … that fire in your belly. That you always want to achieve, always want to get better,” Keane said after Thursday’s practice. “Because as soon as you take your foot off the pedal, well that’s when you start going down.”
If anything, Keane’s been hitting the accelerator harder lately, putting up numbers that make him a strong candidate for league MVP honors.
Heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale in Seattle, Keane is the lone MLS player with double-digit totals for both goals (15) and assists (11). And heading into the weekend, only San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski had more goals than Keane’s 31 over the last two seasons and just three players had more assists than his 20.
But the statistics that really prove Keane’s worth are the ones that show up in the standings. In the 22 matches he’s played this season, the Galaxy is 12-3-7; without him, the team is 3-8-0. And since Keane came to the Galaxy 26 months ago, the team is 30-12-12 with him and 7-13-2 without him.
“From Day 1, Robbie came in with an attitude of winning and a professionalism where every day you enjoy your football, you work and … you win,” Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “So his attitude and his approach hasn’t wavered. And it’s contagious.”
What has changed is the flowering of Keane’s relationship with Landon Donovan.
“We met on Match.com,” Donovan said with a grin.
Joking aside, since the two started going steady they’ve developed a special chemistry that allows them to anticipate each other’s moves, which makes defending the Galaxy doubly difficult.
“We’re kind of on the same wavelength, the way we think and the way that we want to play and understand the game,” said Keane, who enjoyed an equally magical pairing with Dimitar Berbatov during his time with Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League. “It’s reading people and knowing exactly what they’re going to do. And that’s certainly been the case for me and Landon.”
Donovan goes even further, admitting he plays differently when teamed with Keane, one of the most prolific strikers in soccer history.
“He’s allowed me to be more creative because he has a flair,” Donovan says of Keane, whose Irish-record 61 international goals — four more than Donovan’s American record — is fifth-best all-time for a European. “When you play with him you can do certain things that you might not try when other players are on the field. When he’s on the field it brings out a better part of me.”
But Keane’s most important contribution this season may have come in Donovan’s absence. When the Galaxy gathered for training camp eight months ago, Donovan was still deep in his winter hibernation from soccer and the team was without David Beckham for the first time in seven years. So Keane stepped forward to fill both voids.
“He’s taken on more of a leadership role and really sort of put this stamp on this team and helped in that way, along with being our best player from start to finish,” Donovan said.
And now Keane is about to lead the Galaxy into the postseason for the third time in his three seasons here. Before his arrival, the team missed the playoffs three times in five years, but this fall it is seeking an unprecedented third consecutive MLS Cup.
The Galaxy can make that journey a lot easier with a victory Sunday night in Seattle. With a win, the team can finish no worse than third in the Western Conference and advance directly to the conference semifinals. A loss would drop them into a wild-card match between the conference’s fourth- and fifth-place teams.
That’s the path the Galaxy followed last year and it ended in a championship.
“It’s irrelevant whether we finish fourth or fifth as long as we win out at the end,” said Keane, who had six goals and an assist in six games in last season’s playoffs. “That’s the most important thing.”
That’s also the thing that drives Keane, at age 33, to be the last one off the practice field.
“I love playing the game. And I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved in my career,” he said. “But it means nothing if I don’t do it now. It’s not about what I’ve done in the past, where I’ve played, how many goals I’ve scored, anything like that.
“It’s about what you do at the present time.”email@example.com
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