It’s the 20th of August, 2011. The Los Angeles Galaxy are facing bitter rivals, the San Jose Earthquakes at home. As the game passes into its 21st minute of play, David Beckham receives the ball a little inside his own half. He looks up, leans back slightly and lofts a 30 yard pass beyond the ‘Quakes defence, into the path of Robbie Keane. As the ball bounces off the turf, Keane squares his hips, apparently preparing to take a touch. It’s a subtle maneuver but San Jose Goalkeeper John Busch reads it and rushes out in anticipation.
Keane has sold the feint perfectly. He never takes the expected touch, allowing the ball instead to bounce gently past both himself and the onrushing Busch, before taking control of the ball and slotting it decisively home.
The Carson crowd roars. Banners and scarves of green are waved among the usual white, blue and gold of the Galaxy faithful. Robbie Keane responds by tumbling across the field with a cartwheel and a roll before firing a couple of imaginary shots from dual finger pistols. It’s a trademark goal celebration we’ll be seeing a lot of. With a goal on his debut, Keane has arrived in style.
Designated Players are a hot topic in Major League soccer. The fact that the mechanicsm allows players to be signed for amounts beyond the league’s salary cap, means that higher profile footballers can be wooed with large sums. Frequently, the biggest names that can be attracted tend to be entering the winters of their careers.
Some of these players arrive only for it to be clear their best years are well behind them and they prove ineffective. Others seem to arrive for the paycheck and display disappointing attitudes and work ethic. Some arrive with the best of intentions and ultimately do well, but have to navigate growing pains as they realise that the standard of play, coupled with the travel and environment, pose more challenges than they had anticipated.
Robbie Keane falls into none of those categories. From day one, he displayed an impeccable attitude. Determination and professionalism would be hallmarks of his game, as well as treating teammates and opponents with the same respect as he’d given their counterparts in England, Italy and Scotland. As a result he excelled, becoming very arguably the best international signing in MLS history.
He wasn’t the most prominent name to grace the league. He was well-known in soccer circles; something of a household name in the UK and of course the Republic of Ireland but not the kind of name to pull in the Angelinos in droves.
This was never better exhibited than in a cruelly amusing incident that has gone down in Galaxy folklore.
Back in October 2012, Keane accompanied Beckham and celebrity pal Russel Brand, to a Los Angeles Lakers game. During this outing, the trio had their picture taken by the press with a couple of young fans – or at least is was a couple in Robbie’s mind. When the picture was released, it came with the humbling caption “Soccer player David Beckham and actor Russel Brand pose for a photo with unidentified fans…”.
When it came to on-field performance though, Keane comfortably surpassed Beckham. While David’s association with the club will be more readily recalled as the years tick by, those of us that followed the team through this era will remember Robbie far more fondly .
The man racked up goals and assists, blended a gut-busting workrate with craft and imagination. He frequently gave his best and demanded the same of his teammates. I don’t know if a single player who has graced the field alongside Keane has entirely escaped the ire that was raised when a sloppy pass was made or a smart run unrecognised. I’m almost certain that no MLS referee went by unscathed.
It wasn’t that the man was a prima-donna who lacked humility. He was a player with high standards that he applied to others as much as himself. This was often demonstrated after the final whistle when he would openly praise unsung teammates, opining in interviews that Robbie Rogers deserved a place in the US national team and confirming that if Eire wanted to take advantage of Mike Magee’s heritage, he’d certainly recommend him.
When Landon Donovan left on an indefinite sabbatical, it’s little wonder that Keane assumed the Galaxy captaincy.
Alongside LD, he fashioned a fruitful partnership that the Galaxy faithful coined as “Keanovan”, with the pair at times simply decimating opposing sides. The tandem, along with the midfield duo of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas were integral in supplanting Bruce Arena’s reputation for pragmatic, workmanlike football, ushering in a period of spectacular play. The period was fondly given the tongue-in-cheek moniker of “Tiki-Taco”.
With yesterday’s announcement of his departure, he leaves undisputedly an LA Galaxy legend. His time with the club saw three MLS Cups and two Supporters Shields (the only two won with a balanced schedule btw), all of which were achieved with Keane as a vital component. Personally he was league MVP in 2014, Galaxy MVP for four seasons and scored 104 goals.
He leaves the club having provided fans with many great memories and a legacy that is second in league history to only Donovan himself.
Farewell, thanks and good luck Mr Keane. You’ve done us proud.
PS: The Galaxy have put up a video of all his MLS goals… it’s 25 minutes long!