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Fire Mon Jun 02 2014
Consider the life of an athlete, the constant repetition of training, trying always to be better than you were the day before. The need to judiciously streamline your concentration, pruning snaking tangents of thought so as to keep focus in key moments. Such intense mental and physical discipline must come at a great cost, unless one is able to compartmentalize, keeping separate the spheres of life and performance.
This spartan lifestyle has indeed taken its toll on many of the world's finest athletes. Usually we hear about it when their tensions cause them to go supernova, exploding in colorful, public fashion. Less often are we privy to those whose cores collapse, imploding under the weight of impossible expectation. This is, it would seem, precisely what happened to Landon Donovan, of the Los Angeles Galaxy and the US Men's National Team, whose leave of absence from the sport in 2013 to refresh mentally may have ultimately cost him a trip to his fourth World Cup.
Yet he rebounds, and we are treated to a more impressive display than ever before. The recently deposed king of the National Team netted his third goal in two games since being left off Jürgen Klinsmann's 23-man roster for Brazil. Donovan has taken Klinsmann's snub more as a challenge, and he is determined to show that he is still the best player in National Team history. You could say he is riding the Redemption Express, showing that the best revenge is indeed living, and playing, well. The rest of the Galaxy, however seemed to opt for other means of transportation, as Donovan was far and away the best player in an LA shirt on the day.
The Fire came into the game with a few holes in their lineup, notably Mike Magee who missed his second straight game, and performed admirably in spite of them, managing a 1-1 draw. Grant Ward and Chris Ritter got their first starts for the team, on the right wing and central midfield respectively. Ward, the loanee from Tottenham Hotspur looked every bit his young age, slightly over matched but eager to prove his worth ahead of Chicago's impending decision of extending the loan or securing him on transfer. Ritter for his part was integral in helping to stymie the LA attack, as well as distribution from the midfield.
For a season highlighted by the contributions of younger players like Harry Shipp, Benji Joya, Ritter, and Ward, the key on Sunday came from the veteran presences of the defense, Lovel Palmer, Gonzolo Segares, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and Bakary Soumare. The Chicago starting back four were together again for the first time since the Portland game on March 16th, and their cohesion helped stem the tide of the Galaxy's attack. As well, Palmer's service up the wing created several good pieces of build-up play, even if the team wasn't able to capitalize. The telling stat from the game was that the Fire out-shot the Galaxy 11-5, with all of LA's shots coming in the second half of play.
That Chicago's goal came off of a penalty kick, after Quincy Amarikwa was hauled down in the box by Juninho, can either be read as a testament to the LA defense or the Chicago offense being in a bit of a haze. It was probably a combination of the two factors, and it will be interesting to see what will happen when they take on the Colorado Rapids on short turnaround this Wednesday.
Because the life of an athlete must progress, through pain, fatigue, joy, and malaise. It is more than simply finding the strength to compete, though, as we have seen. It is a search for harmony, to achieve your goals on the field, while rising above them if not.