LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Galaxy captain Robbie Keane has a lot on his shoulders this season for the two-time defending MLS Cup champions.
David Beckham retired from the team at the end of last season. Star forward Landon Donovan contemplated retirement during the offseason, didn't join the team until March and has missed more time playing with the U.S. men’s national team. To top it off, Mike Magee has become the league’s leading scorer since being dealt to the Chicago Fire in May for personal reasons.
Despite all that and several late-game collapses, the Galaxy find themselves only four points outside of first in the Western Conference largely thanks to Keane. Their next match is Saturday in Portland, which is tied for third in the conference standings with Los Angeles at 30 points. Despite missing time to play for the Irish national team, Keane leads MLS with eight assists and also has seven goals.
"I don't really sit and look at it, to be honest with you," Keane said. "As long as we win the championship at the end, I don't care, to be honest with you."
Following a crushing loss to San Jose on June 29, when the Galaxy allowed two late goals in a 3-2 defeat, Keane called for the team to prove itself.
"Sometimes it takes a strong man to come back from defeat like this," Keane said after the match. "Let's see who has some balls in the next few games."
Keane has backed up his words in carrying the offense in a pair of victories over Columbus and Dallas. His penalty kick goals in the 85th minute and during stoppage time completed a comeback over the Crew, while he notched a pair of assists to lead the charge against Western Conference power FC Dallas on July 7.
"Two wins, I think that says it all," Keane said.
Keane was a game-time decision for the match against FC Dallas after suffering a knee injury against Columbus. He needed to have his knee drained the day before the match.
"He'd have to be in real bad shape not to play," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "So his competiveness, his hunger to play and to win is contagious."
The departures of Beckham and Magee, combined with Donovan's absences, have left Keane with a young supporting cast, but he said his leadership doesn't change depending on the lineup.
Arena echoed Keane's sentiment.
"Has anybody been playing the violin when we're missing players?" Arena said. "No. Who cares? You've got to get out there and play."
An inability to close out matches has hurt the Galaxy throughout the season. The low point came in a 3-2 loss to San Jose in the California Clásico on June 30, when the Earthquakes scored in the 92nd and 93rd minutes despite being a man down from an earlier red card.
"Certainly the last 10 to 15 minutes of games, we've conceded a lot of goals," Keane said. "Consistency in this league is important. Two wins and we're right back up there. Back-to-back wins are very important in this league."
Keane's influence on the team's younger players will be pivotal to the Galaxy's chances of three-peating as MLS Cup champions. The Galaxy's youngest starter, 21-year-old forward Gyasi Zardes, seems to be taking after L.A.'s best player when identifying the keys to success moving forward.
"The last 15 minutes of the game, playing the game like men and going all out," Zardes said.
Although there are bigger headlines associated with the Galaxy – Beckham's departure, Donovan's future with Team USA, Robbie Rogers being the first active gay athlete in American sports – Keane is the most important piece of the puzzle. He is among the favorites to be named MVP with the season more than halfway finished, but he doesn't sound interested in the accolades. He is focused on winning a third straight MLS Cup.
Moments following the victory over FC Dallas, Keane was the first to leave the pitch for the locker room while his teammates celebrated. He knows there is more work to be done.
Related Yahoo! Sports video: