The LA Galaxy's 3-1 playoff win over Real Salt Lake was straight out of the Twilight Zone.
The Galaxy goal scorers on the night were Alan Gordon and Emmanuel Boateng. One of those who picked up an assist was none other than Landon Donovan. Think about that for a second.
On a team that at the beginning of the season was thought to be built around Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, the heroes were a 35-year-old forward making his first playoff start, a 22-year-old winger who spent the three previous seasons playing in Sweden, and the most decorated U.S. player in history who is just seven weeks removed from retirement. Had you walked into a Las Vegas sports book a few months back and laid down a wager on that trifecta, you could have bought your own island.
It was a night where LA's past, present, and future were all on display. So was its cohesiveness. The lineup trotted out by Galaxy manager Bruce Arena was his best, and that would have been the case even if Keane and Gerrard had been 100 percent fit.
Gordon's ability to occupy the opposition center backs complements Giovani dos Santos perfectly, allowing the Mexico international to find pockets of space where he can create. And with Donovan manning one of the flank midfield positions, not only does the Galaxy have another creative element in attack, but also the kind of conscientious defending that has often been missing this year.
Donovan looks close to peak fitness too, as witnessed by one sequence in the first half when he chased down RSL winger Joao Plata deep into his own half and won a throw-in thanks to a perfectly timed tackle. Meanwhile, Boateng was a revelation regardless of what wing he occupied, tearing RSL apart with his speed, close control and finishing.
Of course, there is little that Arena does that isn't by design. When asked earlier this year to explain his team's collapse at the end of last season (one that ended in the knockout round), Arena cited a lack of depth, and so he set about fixing that aspect of his team.
In came the likes of Jelle Van Damme, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Mike Magee and Jeff Larentowicz. Those moves got most of the headlines. Players like Boateng seemed an afterthought. And Donovan wasn't even a thought at all. It's clear that even after De Jong's transfer to Galatasaray, Arena has that depth now.
That said, it's one thing to acquire the necessary puzzle pieces but it's another to get them to actually fit together. That has proved to be an immense challenge for Arena and the Galaxy this season. There has been a discernible lack of chemistry between Keane and Dos Santos, while the opposite has been true of Dos Santos and Gordon. The Mexican will no doubt be relieved that the injury that forced his teammate off early in the second half isn't deemed to be serious.
Donovan and Dos Santos also seem to have jelled as well, as the two celebrated like grade-schoolers when they combined to set up Gordon's goal. Gerrard has been the ultimate tactical square peg trying to fit into a round hole. He has been at his best in an attacking midfield role, which is precisely where Dos Santos has excelled while with the Galaxy.
Let's face it, this should really be Dos Santos' team now. At 27, he's at the peak of his powers, and his 14 goals and 12 assists show that he has been well worth the Designated Player money splashed on him. He has proved durable as well, appearing in 27 of the Galaxy's past 30 games, something neither Keane nor Gerrard have approached this season.
Granted, Arena may opt for a bit more bite in midfield as the playoffs progress. Gyasi Zardes' recovery from a broken foot could see him play a part in the postseason as well. But Arena could do a lot worse than to persist with the lineup that performed so well on Wednesday, even if that means staying in the Twilight Zone.