CARSON -- Landon Donovan has years of experience with penalty kicks, and he's the regular spot-shooter for the Galaxy and the U.S. national team.
PKs are mostly mental, and after he missed two in a row against Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando -- one of them in the shootout to decide the 2009 MLS Cup title game -- there was an assumption the former UCLA goalkeeper had gotten inside his head.
If so, Donovan managed to push him out as he converted a 23rd-minute penalty to give the Galaxy their first lead in Sunday night's 3-1 victory in the Western Conference final at Home Depot Center.
“I've been fortunate and not missed a ton of penalties in MLS, but two of them that I've missed came against Nick,” he said afterward. “I was fully aware of that. I just let my instincts take over.”
Rimando went right, and Donovan fired the other way, sharply at mid-height. Nothing but net.
“When I got to the ball, I actually was going to hit it the way he went. And at the last second, I trusted my gut, and the ball went in.”
The goal extended Donovan's MLS postseason record for goals to 19 in 28 playoff games.
BEST-LAID PLANS: How crucial was Real Salt Lake's center-back injury problem to Sunday's result? Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, again, joined the Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez as an MLS Defender of the Year finalist Monday. Olave won among the same trio last year, and Gonzalez is most deserving in 2011.
Olave gave a warrior's performance for RSL, and if the Colombian giant wasn't close to 100 percent, his effort certainly was.
“I think it says a lot about Jamison Olave that he's going to play through a situation where they told me there was no chance that he was going to be able to play and he might not have been able to play in the final if we had made it there,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said. “On a week to have the turnaround that he did, and the willingness to say 'I'll play, I wanna play' -- that says a lot about Jamison Olave. I thought he was very strong tonight, and he ran out of gas just as we thought he would. I think he made it a lot further than I thought he would.”
Borchers was at about the same fitness level as Olave but, Kreis said, was “a little more hesitant about playing.” The plan was for Olave to go as long as he could, and then Borchers -- RSL's backling organizer -- would come on for him. Tactical needs, after Mike Magee's header made it 2-1 early in the second half, quashed those.
“Obviously, when you're down a goal and pressing for things, you don't want to have to [change your center backs],” Kreis said. “That plan was made, of course, thinking positively, that we would have a lead to protect.”
WORTH NOTING: That was Bruce Arena's 21st MLS playoff victory, pushing him ahead of Seattle's Sigi Schmid, who has 20. Arena (21-6-4) won MLS Cup titles with D.C. United in 1996 and 1997; Schmid (20-11-5) has won the big game with the Galaxy (in 2002) and Columbus (in 2008). Only three other coaches are in double figures: Bob Bradley (14-13-3), Steve Nicol (11-10-8), and, after the Eastern Conference triumph, Houston's Dominic Kinnear (10-6-4). ... This MLS Cup, scheduled for Nov. 20 at HDC, will have Anschutz written all over it. The Galaxy is owned by AEG, which possesses about half of the Dynamo. HDC was built by and it controlled by AEG. And the championship trophy is named after Philip F. Anschutz, whose support early this century was critical to the league's survival and growth. ... The trophy arrives in Southern California on Wednesday, and there's a kickoff celebration planned for 11 a.m. at the Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier. Accompanying the trophy will be Galaxy legends Mauricio Cienfuegos and Alexi Lalas. ... The Galaxy holds MLS records for playoff games (55), victories (33) and, in two weeks, MLS Cup appearances (7). They've also lost 16 postseason matches, a number topped only by FC Dallas (18) and New York (17), and are two wins from most MLS Cup titles (D.C. United has four).