Since he landed in Southern California at the end of August, he has been put on display for an expectant public in just seven league games — his first MLS campaign interrupted by international duty and injury.
After he returned last week from what was described as a strained muscle in his left thigh, Keane was put through the ringer: three post-season clashes crammed into an eight-day period that ended with Sunday’s Western Conference final victory over Real Salt Lake. However, the curve trends upwards: that last game was a goalscoring one for the Irish captain but almost as important is the fact he made it to the final whistle for the first time since his move to the US, even taking into account the “jelly-legs” (his description) that caused him to fluff a late one-on-one chance with the tie all but decided.
“There was concern that he may not recover from the injury. Robbie told me he’s a quick healer,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena after Sunday’s win, basically admitting that reintroducing his star centre forward to the line-up was a calculated gamble.
If that’s the case, then some of the chips that went down were marked “FAI”.
Still though, he flew home Monday ahead of the Estonia showdown with game-time and a confidence-restoring goal in his back pocket. He leaves behind a contented club where he has retained his popularity with fans and media, all of whom are undaunted by the lack of substantial bang for their buck.
True, his three goals in those seven games are a decent return but considering the quality of opposition, that tally should be seen as a minimum requirement, even taking into account the not insignificant hurdles placed in front of him.
LA loves Robbie Keane. There’s no other way of putting it.
He arrived at a perfectmoment. They had been struggling with forwards for a while — Juan Pablo Angel was a failure and striker Mike Magee has rediscovered himself since been joined up top by the former Spurs man. David Beckham is still the main show in town, all the more so after his best year for the Galaxy — not difficult given the loan spells, injuries and general dip in form which dominated his first four seasons.
Beckham paved the way for future big name players in more ways than he could imagine. Far from being embittered by their midfielder’s international obligations and desire to play in Italy (satisfied), England (dissatisfied unless you count training sessions) and France (watch that space), LA Galaxy watchers now just accept that any incoming stars carrying enormous upside will also retain grand ambitions that clash with those of the club.
It’s not LA’s fault that the overseers of their league scheduled the post-season to fall on either side of an international break which, in the case of Keane, brings with it his last shot at leading his country to a major tournament.
But in LA, they sigh collectively and accept their fate. Such is the price of acquiring a big-name striker to fill a hole. And anyway, they counter, to have him coming back for the MLS Cup with at least two more competitive bouts of 90-minute action, that can only be a good thing for their hopes of victory.
“It’s such an important match for Ireland,” says Adam Serrano, who covers the club for MLSSoccer.com. “No one here has any qualms with his need to play for his country. Also, players like Robbie can change games with one moment of genius. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how they feel. Bruce Arena will know how to handle all this.
“He had a few doubters when the deal first happened but he’s won over them.”
Keane was badly needed on Sunday when it looked like LA might rediscover a way of blowing it (they have yet to win the top trophy since Beckham made his move). His well-taken goal sealed the deal and his presence proved the difference — Real Salt Lake lacked a similar threat up front as they tried and failed to make their battling second-half display worthwhile. But now the stakes are higher. Ireland’s Euro 2012 dream will depend on their record goalscorer’s sharpness in front of goal. If the MLS has robbed Keane of his edge, this risky career move will have backfired in the worst possible way.
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