LONDON (AP) – If it feels like the MLS Cup has become a foregone conclusion, and the Los Angeles Galaxy are already chiseling their names on the trophy named after their owner, it's probably because the best team in the league has managed to make itself even stronger.
The scary thing is the Galaxy were already the top team in the league by a good margin before essentially swapping the ineffective Juan Pablo Angel for Keane, a striker who was still commanding seven-figure transfer offers in Europe.
Keane didn't exactly dominate in his debut, but he showed that he can finish when a chance comes, and playing in front of a strong midfield and arguably the best defense in MLS, Keane's arrival is enough to make the Galaxy go from good candidate for an MLS Cup title to the biggest MLS Cup favorite in recent memory.
So how did LA become such a big favorite to run away with the league? Two teams expected to compete with the Galaxy for top honors have endured disappointing seasons. Real Salt Lake isn't exactly having a bad year, but for a team expected to compete for multiple trophies when the season began, RSL's recent funk (1-4 record in their last five matches) has dropped them out of contention for the Supporters Shield. The slump has raised serious questions about whether they'll compete come playoff time (though the return of injured playmaker Javier Morales should provide a serious boost).
While RSL has underachieved, the New York Red Bulls have flat-out disappointed (and in embarrassing fashion). Despite boasting a loaded roster featuring stars Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, the Red Bulls have gone from heavy favorite to win the Eastern Conference to stumbling club that just might miss the playoffs.
One of the teams most likely to challenge the Galaxy come playoff time is FC Dallas, but now Dallas standout defender George John looks set to leave MLS for a transfer to Blackburn, putting a serious dent in Dallas's chances of returning to the MLS Cup final
Who will stop the Galaxy? The biggest obstacle for Los Angeles could ultimately wind up being a loaded schedule that will also include the CONCACAF Champions League group stage.
The playoff track record of MLS teams also competing in the Champions League is a bad one, with the loaded schedule stretching thin MLS rosters, but the Galaxy's six-point lead atop the West (and the fact the closest team to LA, Seattle, is also competing in Champions League) could give Bruce Arena the luxury of giving key players rest in MLS down the stretch.
With the arrival of Robbie Keane, the Galaxy heads into the stretch run of the MLS season as the biggest favorite to win the league since the Columbus Crew rolled to the double in 2008.
Having spent millions to bolster a team that was already one of the most expensive in MLS, anything less than both the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup would be a disappointment. The Galaxy are built for the challenge, and the league has been put on notice that it won't be easy to stop them.