Monday, December 8, 2014

The Tragedy, the Triumph and the Missing Ballots

The LA Galaxy won the 2014 MLS Cup on Sunday, sending Landon Donovan off into the retirement sunset a champion. 

There's a sad part to the story of the Galaxy this season, though. Most of it is told here

After the game, here's what AJ told the press. 

“I’ve said it before, this is my best year on the field, and my worst year off the field personally. At the end of the game, you guys saw I just kind of laid there and sobbed a little bit. Obviously, I wish my son was here, so that was all I thought about.”

AJ's wife, Megan, kept a blog of their short time with their first child, Luca, which also includes information about donating in his name to charities that support families dealing with heart problems. 

I talked to AJ briefly on Saturday, before the match, where he explained that he'd recovered from a recent hamstring injury and was ready to play in the championship final. That hamstring was indeed put to the test on one particular play, where he prevented a likely Revolution goal in the 28th minute on a Charlie Davies breakaway.

"I think Robbie missed it, or it just slipped under him. Obviously, Charlie and I were on for a hundred yard dash. He's one of the fastest players in this league. I had to make the perfect tackle and challenge."

De La Garza's tackle so impressed some in the pressbox, that they were voting him for the game's MVP. Others opted for Zardes, who scored the opening goal. No one I knew put down Robbie Keane. That's because the ballots were collected near the end of regulation, before the game went into extra time and Keane scored. He was then named the game MVP.

So the question is, who voted for Keane? What happened to AJ's votes? 

Not that the defender would care. I asked him what his first thought was after the final whistle. 

"My first thought was relief, because I was too tired to run anymore."

Though Donovan's "fairy-tale ending" got a lot of press, the emotional impact of AJ and Megan's experience with Luca really affected the Galaxy players, many of whom have young children. They think the world of AJ, a hard-working, unassuming teammate. The strong bond already forged among the squad grew even stronger. Goals were dedicated to Luca as the team played toward the end of the season.

"These guys have been my support group," AJ said. 

Still, even after the Galaxy win, it was a little heartbreaking when I looked out at the confetti-strewn field and saw a large Luca Knows Heart sign in one corner. 

"A lot of guys got to have their kids out there, and that was hard," AJ admitted. 

No trophy could compensate the De La Garza's family's loss, but for his teammates, it was just added motivation to do all they could to mitigate AJ's pain in some way, if only briefly. 

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