Counting down the top 11 personalities of 2011 in Southern California soccer ...
Landon Donovan in 2011 captained the Galaxy to Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield, as top regular-season club, to first place in their group (and a berth in next year's quarterfinals) in the CONCACAF Champions League, and to their third MLS Cup triumph and first since 2005.
He was inspirational off the field and, for the first part of the season, at least, a terror between the lines, scoring eight goals in a seven-game span in April and May as L.A. opened a huge, unapproachable chasm on everybody else. He was the team MVP, finished fourth in the league's MVP balloting, received MLS Best XI notice for the fourth straight year and scored the lone goal in the Galaxy's MLS Cup victory over Houston.
You could call it an off-year.
That's how good the finest soccer player America has produced truly is. He struggled with injury, fatigue and runs of subpar form, wasn't at his best with the national team, yet persevered and played a huge role in his club's mammoth success. The experience provided insight.
“I learned a lot this year about my body,” he said a few days after the MLS Cup triumph, “and I was probably a little lazy at points this year with things that probably would have let me hold up better at the end of the year. So I want to be better in those areas.”
A quadriceps injury slowed him the final three months of the regular season, and he scored just once from the run of play from the end of July until his winner in the Nov. 20 title game. It forced him to bow out of two national team camps and miss the October and November friendlies, initial steps in Jurgen Klinsmann's U.S. makeover.
Nonetheless, he led the Galaxy with a dozen league goals -- 16 in all competitions -- despite spending the season in midfield, generally on the right flank. His second-half move up front, next to Robbie Keane, was the impetus to L.A.'s MLS Cup triumph, and it illustrated the dimensions that tandem makes available to the Galaxy attack.
No clue whether that will be L.A.'s plan in 2012 -- it certainly going to be considered -- but if it is, Donovan plans to be in better shape, in smarter shape, than he was this year. He began training Friday with Everton and is expected to make the first appearance in an eight-week loan spell in the Toffees' English Premier League clash Wednesday against Bolton.
Donovan used the loan stint to Everton two years ago to build a superb performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. This time he's building for an MLS season to really remember.