LA Galaxy star Robbie Keane, truly as good a forward as has ever stalked for goals in Major League Soccer, tops a lot of lists for me.
Before anyone gets too excited, or wonders if there’s some kind of cash prize for that, let me explain that this is not necessarily a good thing. The man tops some “good” lists, but he tops some “bad” ones, too.
Yes, the Galaxy’s prolific Irish international, the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, is mostly a man among MLS boys in his off-the-ball movement, his opportunism near goal, his instinct and desire to find the right spots near goal and his clinical finishing. But you know what he’s also tops in? In being a big ol’ whiny-pants complainer, someone whose persistent remonstrations and habitual, tired-ass excuse-making are unsportsmanlike at best. And sometimes, they’re just plain lame.
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Long story short, I have a real love-hate relationship with the fellow. Every time I work up a good beachhead of admiration, some wave of Keane nonsense comes along, threating to wash away all the well-earned sparkle.
Last week’s comments following a loss in San Jose are a perfect case in point. Keane was coming off a brilliant spell, with two goals in a road win at Dallas and an even more dazzling follow-up: two goals and two assists as his team absolutely took apart New York City FC.
On they went to California rival San Jose, where things didn’t go as planned in a 1-0 loss.
In fairness to them, manager Bruce Arena and Keane both said that LA didn’t deserve the points, that San Jose was better, wanted it more, etc. I like when players and coaches say that, even when controversial moments have something to say about the outcome. Not just because it’s the proper way to handle things, but because the good and bad refereeing decisions typically balance out over the long haul.
So why didn’t Keane just stop there? Just congratulate the other side, talk about doing better next time and then hit the post-game buffet or one of the food trucks outside Avaya Stadium?
No, Keane had to keep going. Arena and Galaxy players were in a twist about a 47th-minute incident, when Galaxy center back Leonardo was sent off, having gotten tangled up with San Jose forward Quincy Amarikwa on a breakaway. Replays are not definitive, but it looked like the right call.
Either way, as they would say closer to his Irish homeland, Keane “had a go” at the referee:
“I do have a problem when you’ve got a referee who thinks it’s all about him instead of actually all about the players. The referee should never be mentioned in the game. Never. That’s the sign of a good referee. Never ever be mentioned in the game. Just concentrate on his own job instead of trying to be the center of attention.”
It’s certainly OK to disagree with a referee; happens all the time. But to further impugn and to question motive is unbecoming and, in this case, highly hypocritical.
Further, it’s all too common with the Galaxy, emblematic of the club’s ongoing sense of entitlement, an attitude cultivated famously by David Beckham and perennially fostered by Arena. Yes, the Galaxy is a good club. And, yes, Arena is a crackerjack manager. But they aren’t perfect! They aren’t going to win every important match. Only, ever since Arena arrived to bring some needed structure to the Galaxy, the club never seems to actually lose a match. Rather, they always get screwed. It’s the field. Or it’s the weather. Or, mostly, it’s the referee’s fault. It really becomes tiring.
Back to Keane. No one tries harder to referee the match than he does. Sometimes it really is amazing that he can score so prolifically while simultaneously working so hard to supervise the officiating. So Keane talking about “concentrating on his own job,” is high folly.
And this accusation of referees as strivers to become the center of attention is completely lame. That was a favorite Beckham tactic. If the referee didn’t call things as Beckham liked, he used his bully pulpit – seriously, who had a bigger media platform than Beckham and his treasure chest of endorsement deals – to fly the weak banner of “attention seeker.”
So let’s make sure we have it right: If the Galaxy gets the benefit of most of the calls, the referee is doing his job, humbly serving the game while letting the real stars shine. But when a few key decisions go against Galaxy, then the referee is an attention seeking narcissist who needs to step aside and understand his place in the world. That about right? What a bunch of Irish hooey.
Keane’s tempestuous side comes out just as much during matches. If he isn’t gesticulating wildly to over referees’ decisions, he may be dressing down a teammate. Or gesturing unprofessionally toward fans; he was fined for this one.
These are the times when Keane’s passion sometimes spills over into something less flattering. He doesn’t seem to enjoy dealing with the media, never mind that’s just part of the deal in a league that could always use more publicity. And when he does speak up, his comments often reflect a narrow world view.
A lot of people may agree on his comments on artificial turf, for instance, that it should be outlawed in the game. But it doesn’t reflect the here-and-now reality of MLS, a league that has been boosted tremendously by the wildly successful Pacific Northwest trio, the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. They all play on artificial turf. Hopefully not forever, but they are only in the league now because MLS is still a place where “imperfect” beats nothing at all.
Another example: Keane may have had a point when he complained about the heat during an afternoon match last year. But the bigger picture of league scheduling is about a lot of things, not the least of which is television contracts (otherwise known as, the biggest reason he can make $4.5 million a year.)
For balance, let me return to the reasons I like to watch the guy. Again, anybody who doubts the man’s ability and his impact on the field, please see me after class. Because you are not paying enough attention. The sheer numbers are indisputable.
Consider the usual, statistical aiming point for strikers pretty much anywhere: about one goal every two matches. Do that in a good league and you’ll be the kind of guy who can afford boats and nannies and designer dogs or whatever. Keane is well past that standard with 68 goals in 102 regular season MLS matches. His hit rate of 9 goals in 17 playoff appearances is just as impressive.
Yes, he plays for the Galaxy, where abundant talent eases the load. But you can also look at that another way: It is Keane’s cunning off-the-ball movement – habitually active, instinctive and wise – that propels the Galaxy’s attack.
That’s why I love watching the guy. That’s why I admire his ability. Keane, more than Landon Donovan and perhaps as much as Arena, has been the primary factor as the Galaxy claimed three of the lasts four MLS Cups.
There has never been a repeat MVP in MLS. (Not a back-to-back repeat, that is.) But what he has done over the last few weeks has people talking about one. Sebastian Giovinco’s injury may just open the door.
And you know what? I might just vote for the guy. I still contend he should have won in 2013.
If I do vote for him this year, and if the man does win … I’ll do everyone a favor and not ask for a comment afterward.
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