LA Galaxy Advance To MLS Cup 2011 With Win Over Real Salt Lake
Sure, they had the music cranked up and David Beckham was sipping on a beer while getting changed, but the team that finished with Major League Soccer's best record in the regular season was quick to point out that the biggest game of the year is yet to be played.
"We haven't achieved what we want yet but we've taken all the right steps,” Los Angeles forward Landon Donovan said.
The Galaxy outshot their opponents 14-10 on the night and will return to the MLS Cup just two years after losing on penalties in the final to Real Salt Lake in 2009.
"We've had success. We just haven't had a championship," Beckham said. "Hopefully that will change this year."
The Galaxy will play the Houston Dynamo, which defeated Sporting Kansas City 2-0, on Sunday, November 20th, at the Home Depot Center in the 16th edition of the MLS Cup.
"I must tell you: there was a little bit of pressure on us to get [to the MLS Cup]," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "It's kind of a remarkable feat for this group because they've been pretty consistent all year. They deserve to be in the final."
Los Angeles controlled the majority of the possession early on, with Galaxy forward Chad Barrett threatening on two occasions. His 3rd-minute shot from the top of the box sailed over the crossbar while Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando charged out from his net in the 9th minute to prevent Barrett from latching on to a low cross from defender Sean Franklin.
Meanwhile on the other end, the Galaxy struggled to defend against Real Salt Lake's set pieces. Poor marking led to a 5th-minute shot on goal by RSL defender Robbie Russell and a 12th-minute free header by center back Chris Schuler, both off of free kicks from midfielder Javier Morales.
It was the Galaxy, though, that broke through first. RSL midfielder Andy Williams pushed Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez in the box inside the penalty box, leading referee Jorge Gonzalez to point the spot. Donovan stepped up and buried the penalty kick, sending Rimando the wrong way and giving Los Angeles a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
"I've been fortunate not to miss too many penalties in MLS but two of them that I've missed have come against Nick [Rimando]," Donovan said. "I was fully aware of that. I just let my instincts take over. When I got to the ball, I actually was going to hit it the way [Rimando] went. At the last second I trusted my gut and the ball went in."
The visitors responded almost immediately as the Galaxy's set-piece defending broke down again. RSL forward Alvaro Saborio got loose in the middle of the box and headed home past Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders to even the score at 1-1 in the 25th minute.
"I thought Saborio was outstanding today," Arena said. "He was a handful for our center backs."
The Galaxy's high-profile midseason signing, Irishman Robbie Keane (pictured right), came alive in the half's final 15 minutes. Keane hit a low shot off the post in the 32nd minute and then beat RSL defender Jamison Olave down the left flank in the 43rd minute before sending a sizzling shot wide of the far post.
Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman nearly gave his team a halftime lead, but his stoppage-time shot ricocheted off the post and out of danger.
"We came in at halftime and realized that we weren't moving and we were being sloppy with the ball," Magee said. "We knew if we picked our movement up, it would translate into more chances."
Los Angeles came out of the locker with a newfound emphasis on its transition attack, trying to turn defensive stops into goal-scoring opportunities at the other end. Beckham led the charge in the 51st minute, firing a pass up ahead to Keane, who found Barrett at the back post. RSL midfielder Will Johnson threw his face in front of Barrett's shot, deflecting the ball out of its goal-bound path.
"They opened up a little bit in the second half and we were able to break on them," Beckham said. "We're lucky that we have players like Landon [Donovan], like Mikey [Magee] and like Robbie [Keane] that are finishing the ball at the moment."
Beckham found Magee four minutes later at the back post, but the Galaxy midfielder headed his shot over the bar.
"There's something special in his right foot," Magee said about Beckham. "Every time he gets a cross off, you have to get in a good spot and I’ve been doing that."
Beckham was equally as effusive in his praise for Magee. "I think that every time the ball goes to him, we expect him to score," Beckham said. "Thankfully my crosses are finding him and he's putting them in the goal when we need him to."
Added Arena about Magee: "He's scoring clutch goals. Maybe it's the luck of the Irish—I would assume Magee is Irish. I'm real happy for him. Obviously that was a critical goal in this game."
Real Salt Lake nearly responded immediately with a goal of its own for the second time in the match, but Espindola's blasted shot bounced off the crossbar in the 60th minute.
Keane doubled the Galaxy's advantage in the 68th minute on a superb individual effort. The Irish striker beat Olave down the left flank and then cut back before firing a low shot inside the far post.
"I felt really, really sharp tonight," Keane said.
The Galaxy continued to attack through Keane: he put a low shot just wide of the far post in the 80th minute and overran a low cross from substitute Chris Birchall in the 83rd that could have led to a tap-in goal.
The visitors had several chances to make a game of it in late in the second half but they couldn’t convert. Saunders came up with diving saves on Morales in the 84th and substitute Luis Gil in the 85th. Espindola was in all alone on Saunders in the 90th but sent his shot wide of the far post.
"It seemed like right from the get go, there were a lot of chances," Beckerman said. "They finished more than we did."
Los Angeles could have added to its lead in the match's final minutes, but Donovan and Keane both missed good opportunities in stoppage time.
News and Notes
Houston's 49 regular season points were tied for sixth-best in MLS. The Dynamo earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference and beat the Philadelphia Union 3-1 over two legs in the conference semifinals before downing Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.
-- Arena gave a preliminary scouting report on the Houston team the Galaxy will face in two weeks. "I was actually watching [Houston vs. Kansas City] today and they didn't miss a beat when Brad [Davis] left the game...He's had a great season and he's an important part of the Houston team. From the little that I saw, they just got stronger and stronger in the second half so they're going to be a very tough team to play against."
The teams split the season series, with the Galaxy winning 1-0 at home in May and losing 3-1 on the road in the regular season finale, a game Los Angeles played without Beckham, Donovan, Keane, Magee and midfielder Juninho.
-- Beckham's contract with Major League Soccer is up after this season and speculation is rampant about where he will play next season. Beckham, who has been linked with a move to French club Paris Saint-Germain, said he will make a decision about his future after the season. "I think many people have said for years that I go to places as a brand move," Beckham said. "I go to places because I want to be successful as a football player. That's it, as simple as that. I want to be successful wherever I go. I'm 36 years old and I'm still enjoying playing football."
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