Keane aims to end year on a high note
Tonight, Robbie Keane aims to bring down the curtain on 2012 with a different high to what he envisaged at the start of it.
This year was supposed to be all about the European Championships for the Tallaght man, an opportunity to captain his country at a major tournament. But while he was looking forward to events in Poland, his manager at LA Galaxy, Bruce Arena, couldn't wait for it to be over.
He sensed that the striker's mind was elsewhere as he misfired his way through the first part of the MLS season. Unfortunately for Ireland, he carried that form into a disappointing Euros adventure.
Once it was out of the way, however, it signalled a dramatic turnaround in his fortunes at club level. The spotlight this week may have been on the departing David Beckham, yet the reality is that Keane has driven the club's march to an MLS Cup final date with Houston.
Arena believes that a focused Keane is the outstanding player in America.
"We see this all the time with players that are involved with national teams and significant competitions, that their focus sometimes is a little bit more on those championships," he explained earlier this week, while reflecting on the 32-year-old's season.
"Perhaps they hold back a little bit so that they're not injured and miss out on those championships. I think, with Robbie, once he came back in late June, he was 100pc committed to the Galaxy."
Despite his barren spell leading up to the summer, Keane has racked up 21 goals, with five of them coming in the play-off season. It is an impressive haul, albeit in a league where some of the defences are still far too generous.
The fact that the season-defining game is allowed to take place on LA's home turf stresses that, while the game in the US has made decent strides, it still has a way to go before it can be completely taken seriously.
Still, the occasion has significance for Keane, who only has one League Cup medal to show from his time in England. Victory would also make it easier for the front man to return to the Premier League this winter.
Critics in LA have sometimes accused those who embark on winter cameos of having limited commitment to their main employers; a pivotal role in successive titles would make it hard for anyone to suggest that the player hasn't justified his $3.4m salary.
Keane was coy when speaking about his future earlier this week – then again, he always is – although it's believed that more than one top-flight club would be keen on utilising his services for January and February.
It would help Giovanni Trapattoni, too, given the certainty that Keane will start the March qualifiers with Sweden and Austria if he is fit.
Before that, however, he must focus on salvaging something from a year which had promised so much.
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