Galaxy Win MLS Cup
The Galaxy had fielded the same questions from the media all year: Was this David Beckham’s final season in the United States?
Would the pressure of playing at home in the championship game get to the Galaxy?
Was this Los Angeles team the best Major League had ever seen?
Beckham’s future is still up for debate, but the heavily-favored Galaxy answered every other query by beating the Houston Dynamo 1-0 in a drab, rain-soaked MLS Cup final. Donovan’s 72nd minute goal was the decider as Los Angeles won its first MLS title since 2005 before a stadium record crowd of 30,281 in Carson, Calif.
“Being successful always feels good. Proving people wrong feels even [better],” said Beckham, who revealed to the media that he tore his hamstring in practice on Tuesday. “We’re the Galaxy, we’re the biggest club in this country. We’re proud to be part of this.”
Donovan added: “As an athlete, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment to be able to win a championship in your own stadium. The atmosphere was fantastic tonight. The stadium was electric.”
Beckham and Donovan combined with the Galaxy’s third highly-paid star, Irishman Robbie Keane, on the game’s lone goal. Beckham flicked a header on up the field to Keane, who turned and ran at the Dynamo defense before slipping a perfectly weighted through ball to Donovan’s feet. The Galaxy’s captain made no mistake from there, lifting the ball over Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall and into the net for his league leading 20th career postseason goal.
The championship was Arena’s league-high third as an MLS head coach.
“The secret is that they are good players, and they play together as a team,” Arena said. “It’s been a great year for our team and our organization. We’ve accomplished a lot this year.”
The loss was Houston’s first in 10 matches, ending a torrid streak that saw them rally to earn the second seed in the East and knock off Philadelphia and Kansas City in the playoffs on their way to the title match.
“I think we still defended pretty well,” Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said. “Defensively we were keeping ourselves in the game. I think on the other side of it we should have done more to put pressure on them.”
The Galaxy dominated the first half possession, piling up five corner kicks to Houston’s zero and outshooting the Dynamo 8-3 before halftime.
Adam Cristman, who filled in at forward for the injured Chad Barrett, made himself available in dangerous positions but couldn’t capitalize with a goal. Cristman put open headers wide of the far post in the 12th and 27th minutes and scuffed a shot in the box in the 28th.
Midfielder Landon Donovan and forward Robbie Keane got themselves more involved in the attack as the half went on. Keane played Donovan through down the left flank in the 34th minute but the American’s shot went wide of the far post. Keane nearly got onto the end of a 35th minute pass from Beckham but Hall charged off his line and cleared the ball away.
Donovan hit a long shot wide of the far post in the 40th and Keane put his 45th minute effort over the Dynamo’s crossbar.
Danny Cruz managed Houston’s lone shot on goal of the first period, a long-range effort in the 44th minute that Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders held easily.
“They’ve came out and played the way they’ve been playing all season,” Houston striker Brian Ching said. “Hats off to them. They handled the pressure well.”
Keane’s work looked to have finally paid off in the 57th minute, when he snuck by Houston’s defense and slipped a low shot through Hall’s leg and into the back of the net. Keane was ruled offside, however, and the goal was disallowed.
Houston nearly responded immediately through Corey Ashe. The speedy midfielder blistered a shot from the left flank into the side netting of the Galaxy’s goal in the 58th minute.
The Dynamo failed to threaten for the rest of the match, while the Galaxy cranked up the pressure of their attack on the other end. Keane got free on a counterattack in the 61st minute but took too much time on the ball, allowing Houston’s defense to recover and clear the ball from danger.
Arena removed Cristman from the match and replaced him with midfielder Chris Birchall, pushing Donovan into a more forward role.
“When I get there, my sole purpose is to be as aggressive as possible,” Donovan said.
The Galaxy took the lead 11 minutes later and kept the pressure on the Dynamo until the final whistle. Donovan had two more chances in the 79th and 81st minutes and Beckham put a trademark bending free kick on frame in stoppage time, forcing Hall to make a sprawling save.
News and Notes
The English star made it clear that he will take some time to enjoy the Galaxy’s title and to relax with his family before going public with a decision about where he will play his soccer next season.
“Like I said before, I need to sit back and relax and enjoy this moment and then decide what I’m going to do,” Beckham said. “I might talk in past tense every now and again but it doesn’t mean that I’m not coming back. At the end of the day, I need to decide what’s best for me, what’s best for the team and my family. We’ll see. It’s been an amazing five years…there’s a lot of options. I’m a Galaxy player. I’ve been a Galaxy player for the last five years and I’ve been proud of that. I’m going to enjoy tonight.”
Media reports have strongly linked Beckham, 36, to French club Paris Saint-Germain.
Beckham danced around several questions from the media on his future, using the line that he was excited about celebrating the Galaxy’s championship into the wee hours of Monday morning.
One particularly amusing exchange ensued after Beckham’s third or fourth declaration that he was looking forward to the evening’s festivities. “You’re pretty excited about tonight,” Donovan deadpanned in Beckham’s direction. “I’ve got school drop off at 8 o’clock so I won’t be drinking too much,” Beckham responded. Added Arena: “You’ll get in by 8:00 I think.”
-- MLS announced Sunday a revamped playoff format for the 2012 season, bringing three important changes to the league’s competition structure. With the addition of the Montreal Impact as the league’s 19th team, the Eastern Conference will now have one more team (10) than the West (nine).
The top five teams in each conference will now qualify for the playoffs, replacing the convoluted format in which the New York Red Bulls won the West in 2008, Real Salt Lake won the East in 2009 and Colorado won the East in 2010, all of which played teams in the opposite conference during the regular season.
“I think it makes it better,” Donovan said about the decision to play the MLS Cup at the home stadium of the team with the better record. “I think it’s a just reward for the team that deserves it over the season.”
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