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LA Galaxy Snatch MLS Cup Again As Beckham Leaves A Winner

Omar Shamout |
December 1, 2012 | 8:11 p.m. PST

Senior Sports Reporter

CARSON, Calif. -- After a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia on the fourth of July, the LA Galaxy sat near the bottom of the MLS western conference standings, having won only six of their first 19 matches.

On Dec. 1, they lifted their second-straight MLS Cup.

LA came back to defeat the Houston Dynamo, 3-1, Saturday afternoon in MLS Cup 2012 at the Home Depot Center through goals from Omar Gonzalez, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

The Galaxy have now won four MLS championships. They are tied with D.C. United for most number of league titles won.

In the final 16 games of the regular season, the team tallied 34 points to earn themselves the fourth seed in the west. The only reason the Galaxy got to play the final at home is because Houston was ranked fifth in the eastern conference. LA and Houston also played for the championship on the same ground last year in a match the Galaxy won, 1-0.

Midfielder David Beckham said making the playoffs wasn’t good enough. 

“We always want to win a championship at the end of the year,” said the 36-year-old Englishman, who was substituted late in the game to a raucous ovation from the crowd made up mostly of Galaxy fans.

Beckham, arguably the most famous athlete in the world, played his last game in a Galaxy shirt after announcing last month he would not return next season.

“Last year we were amazing and we did it," Beckham added. "This year, we didn’t start very well but we came good when it was … important.”

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said he was thrilled at what his team was able to accomplish, but relieved that the long, exhausting season is finally over. 

“It was very rewarding,” Arena said. “Thank god I had 35 years under my belt to be able to deal with this. It was very challenging.”

Arena, who became the first coach in MLS history to capture four league titles, said other teams would have probably fired him after the first few months of the season. He commended his players for renewing their commitment to the team and getting back in the playoff hunt.

“We’ve got a fabulous group of players,” Arena said. “They played with a lot of pride. A lot of these guys had to dig deep and really figure out what was important and how to focus.”

One player crucial to the team’s revival was defender Omar Gonzalez, who played his first game for the Galaxy this season in that July 4th loss. 

Since returning from an ACL tear, the 24-year-old Gonzalez has stabilized a Galaxy back line that was leaking goals.

But his offensive skills made the most noise today and helped earn him MLS Cup Most Valuable Player honors.

Midway through the second half, with the Galaxy down a goal, Gonzalez’ six-foot-five inch frame became too much to handle for Houston. He took root in the Dynamo penalty area and headed home a Juninho cross in the 61st minute.

“I was just hanging out at the back post,” Gonzalez said. “I was just hoping Juninho would chip that one in and he did.”

Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear said the momentum had slowly been turning before Gonzalez’ goal.

“Sometimes momentum swings in cumulative little increments,” Kinnear said. “I’ll give [Omar] Gonzalez credit, his timing today was excellent. Defensively and tactic-wise he was very good. That changed momentum.”

Kinnear noted that Gonzalez’s return in July gave the Galaxy the spark they needed to kickstart their season.

"I think he’s been probably the turning point in their season was when he got healthy," he said. "A lot of things were good going forward but maybe not as strong defensively.”

Kinnear’s players didn’t make things easy for the Galaxy though.

The Dynamo started the game strongly and controlled most of the possession in the first half. The Galaxy started to find their groove after about 15 minutes and created chances on the counter attack.

Landon Donovan missed a golden opportunity early in the match to put LA ahead, which came on a typical Galaxy build up. 

Beckham received the ball in midfield and lofted it over the top of the Dynamo defense to a wide-open Keane on the left flank. The Irishman centered a perfect pass to an on-rushing Donovan, who missed a wide-open net from less than 10 feet away. 

Chances are Donovan knocks that shot in the net 99 times out of 100, and he admitted after the game that the gaffe shell-shocked him.

“When you're in a moment like that, you feel like you let the team down," Donovan said. "Candidly, it sat with me until halftime."

His misery was compounded by the fact Houston capitalized on Donovan’s error right before the break.

In the 44th minute, Dynamo forward Calen Carr found space behind LA defender Tommy Meyer. Will Bruin played a great ball over Meyer’s head onto Carr’s feet. The striker rushed into the penalty area and smashed the ball past goalkeeper Josh Saunders to give Houston a 1-0 lead.

The goal sent the 2,000 orange-clad Houston Dynamo supporters into raptures.

LA supporters were down, but the Galaxy looked to have struck back early in the second half. Unfortunately for their fans, Robbie Keane’s tight-angle shot following a Beckham free kick was ruled offside in the 49th minute.

Bruin once again connected with Carr in the 56th minute on a cross to the far post of Saunders’ net. The forward could only muster a weak header, however, which was pushed aside by the LA goalkeeper.

Just four minutes after the tying goal, the Galaxy once again wreaked havoc in the Houston penalty area in what would turn out to be the game’s deciding moment.

After a hectic few moments in front of Houston’s goal courtesy of another Gonzalez header, referee Silviu Petrescu ruled the Dynamo's Ricardo Clark blocked a bicycle kick by Galaxy forward Mike Magee with his hand. The Houston midfielder was incensed by the decision and immediately stormed up to the referee in protest along with his teammates.

Despite his first-half mistake, Galaxy captain Donovan slotted home the penalty kick to goalkeeper Tally Hall’s left, redeeming his first-half miss.

Though he appeared cool and collected, Donovan admitted he was anything but.

“I’m not going to fool anyone and say I was calm about it,” he said. “I was pretty nervous.”

Donovan, 30, is the MLS’ leading postseason scorer with 22 career goals. Five of those came in four separate MLS Cup appearances.

Despite his success, Donovan reiterated after the match that he is thinking about stepping away from the sport – at least for a while.

“It's been a long two years, for all of us,” he said. "I have to listen to my heart and my gut and right now my gut says to get away for a while."

The forward said a moment immediately after the final whistle helped put things in perspective.

“My sister just had a baby and she came down on the field and he was sleeping on her,” Donovan said. “[It] makes me realize I want to be closer to my family for awhile and then figure out the soccer later.”

The Galaxy survived a tense last 20 minutes of pressure from Houston before Robbie Keane won the Galaxy’s second penalty of the match in stoppage time. Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall tripped up the 32-year-old Irish striker to the right of Houston’s net.

Donovan, who said he was too tired to step up to the spot again, deferred the responsibility to Keane.

Fittingly, the Galaxy’s season MVP scored their final goal of the year, taking his league tally to 21.

Keane admitted that this championship meant more to him than his first.

“It felt like I contributed a lot more this season than last season,” he said.

Though he didn’t score any goals, the biggest story on the night was Beckham. Saturday’s final marked the end of an era for not only MLS, but also soccer in America as the league moves on without its talismanic marketing star. 

When the trophy prsentation was over Saturday, Beckham made one final lap of the Home Depot Center pitch with an American flag draped around his shoulders. Minutes later, he spoke about what he’s accomplished in his time with the Galaxy.

“It's been a successful six years here, and now that we've won the second one, it's even more satisfying," Beckham said, adding that he’s grateful for all the support he’s received across the U.S.

"I might be English, but I’m very proud to have been part of this amazing country,” he said. “I just hope I’ve brought a bit of interest to the game. If that’s the single thing that I’ve done, then great.”

Reach Senior Sports Reporter Omar Shamout via email or follow him on Twitter.



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