Carson, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Galaxy hosted Orlando City SC on Sunday at the StubHub Center and it wasn’t your typical regular season game. On the 15th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy, the club put together a remembrance atmosphere for everyone in attendance. Also, in soccer terms, the game marked the return of America's greatest player, Landon Donovan.
In 2014, Donovan helped the Galaxy win the MLS Cup for the fifth time, his sixth championship overall, and as LA beat New England, 2-1, Landon walked off into the sunset further cementing his legacy as the best in U.S. history.
However, the greats in every sport don’t find it easy to leave the game that they love. So, after almost two years away, Donovan sent shock waves through the sport by coming back to MLS and suiting up for action wearing number 26.
The match’s excitement would begin with a goal from Orlando that rained on the Galaxy’s parade.
In the 20th minute, Orlando played it down the far side without much LA defense as the Galaxy apparently assumed there would be an offside call. Instead, the ball was played in front and Cyle Larin directed it towards goal where Jelle Van Damme deflected the shot, but Kevin Molino picked up the scraps and fired the loose ball into the net past Brian Rowe for a 1-0 lead.
In the final ten minutes of the first half, LA turned the game completely around and scored three goals in the blink of an eye.
In the 35th minute, Van Damme sent a smart pass to Emmanuel Boateng who sprinted to the final third of the pitch and crossed the ball into Giovani dos Santos for a shot and goal in the 6-yard box. Then, minutes after tying the game, it was Boateng sending the pass to Van Damme near goal, who crossed it to Alan Gordon for a 2-1 lead.
LA wasn’t done as they added a third goal in stoppage time before the half.
On a ball in the air, Alan Gordon and Jose Aja collided heads, and Aja confronted Gordon a couple of times after the play. As the first half ended, Gordon got the ball in the box and a frustrated Aja fouled him, earning LA a penalty-kick. Giovani took the kick to score for a 3-1 lead -- his second of the game, and fourteenth goal of the season.
In the second half, LA would pull away with a fourth goal in the 70th minute as Giovani unselfishly passed off to Robbie Keane, who was returning from injury and his final Ireland national team appearance. Keane easily scored for a 4-1 lead, as Orlando’s goalkeeper Joe Bendik already left goal and was off his line.
With the game no longer hanging in the balance, the only question left to be answered on this day was if and when Landon Donovan would make his triumphant return to soccer.
With the crowd chanting his name, Donovan would be substituted in for Raul Mendiola in the 83rd minute as the StubHub Center erupted. Landon got his feet wet with about ten minutes of play, and presumably will progress with his training in the coming weeks to bring another dynamic weapon to the Galaxy.
Although Orlando City SC scored a second goal, LA won 4-2, showing the 27,167 in attendance that the Galaxy will be a sure contender in the 2016 MLS playoffs with this impressive squad.
With the result, the Galaxy are now in sole possession of second place in the Western Conference, four points off leader FC Dallas, with just five games remaining in the MLS Regular Season.
In their next match, the Galaxy are on the road to face Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday, Sept. 18. The Galaxy are 0-0-2 against SKC this season. The match kicks off at 11:00 a.m. PT and will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1.