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Donovan misses perfect MLS parting shot

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Donovan misses perfect MLS parting shot

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Landon Donovan is in disbelief after the loss

SEATTLE – Landon Donovan could only slump in his chair in the Los Angeles Galaxy locker room, barely able to comprehend what had just taken place, even with the evidence of it all around him.

While other players moped and texted and showered and changed after their defeat to Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup final, Donovan sat expressionless in his playing gear after what could be the last time he will wear a Galaxy shirt.

The United States' best and most recognizable player may move on to a European league over the next few months, where he will make more money, play in front of bigger crowds and have the chance to take his career to the next level.

For now, though, he simply couldn't let this one go.

Donovan's skied penalty kick during the decisive shootout at Qwest Field only told part of the story behind his failure to have the kind of influence on the championship game that the league MVP should.

Apart from having a role in the Galaxy's first-half goal, which he set up for Mike Magee, Donovan was largely anonymous from his position on the left. The man who terrorized MLS defenses all season with spring in his step and sparkle in his demeanor just didn't have it.

It gives no pleasure to say this, but once again the old accusation that Donovan fails to fire when it really matters seemed to gain credence. The reputation of big-game choker is one that has plagued him for years, most notably since the 2006 World Cup in Germany. And it is going to take one heck of a lot to make it go away.

Bruce Arena was not intending a direct barb at Donovan, but the Galaxy coach's postmatch comments would have driven another stake into his player's tortured mind.

"With penalty kicks every player is capable of making a penalty," Arena said. "It is just about dealing with the pressure and putting it away."

Donovan felt he learned a lot from the misery of the last World Cup, where he was made the scapegoat of the USA's timid exit. He has insisted that it changed his career and made him hungrier, more motivated and more professional.

How, then, will he regroup from this setback? The MLS Cup final is not the World Cup, but this was the biggest game of the domestic season and Donovan could not deliver the goods.

It could have been a glorious parting shot, if he indeed heads to European pastures. It could've been the perfect sendoff: the captain leading the Galaxy from the wretched doldrums of the past two years to the championship. It would've been the ideal way for the star of the national team to say goodbye to MLS.

Instead, Donovan will only take regret from what was actually a highly impressive campaign. His performances for the U.S. and the Galaxy were generally high-quality, and he deserved better than to end the season with a penalty attempt that went into orbit.

"I hit it like any other penalty," Donovan said. "I made sure he [RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando] was going the other way and I closed my body.

"I just put it in the air. You know, it is probably partially due to tired legs and not concentrating in the moment."

It was meant as an honest statement. It came across as an excuse. And it's one which doesn't really cut it for a player who wants to match himself against the very best.

As Landon Donovan moves forward, wherever that may be, the old doubts, questions and suspicions remain.