On a cold, rainy night in Los Angeles, Major League Soccer’s top team throughout 2011 capped a terrific season with a 1-0 victory in the MLS Cup Final against Houston Dynamo. A Home Depot Center record 30,281 filled temporary bleachers and the entire ground to witness only MLS’s second Cup winner on their home field. Despite steady rain, a questionable pitch and a physical match, Los Angeles Galaxy were unquestionably the better side in a match that could easily have been more decisive in the final score line.
Neither side managed a goal in a first half dominated by the home side’s missed chances and a rapidly deteriorating pitch. Adam Cristman missed headed chances in the 12th and 27th minutes, the latter of which drew the ire of David Beckham, who provided the service. Cristman then missed another open chance after the half-hour before picking up a yellow card in the 40th. Still, using the combination of right back Sean Franklin and Landon Donovan as catalysts, the Galaxy had the majority of the half’s chances. After a spell of decent possession in the game’s earliest moments, Houston struggled with identity and as a by product, execution. Calen Carr kept Todd Dunivant busy but could not find a way to get anything on frame. Danny Cruz had the best chance of the half but his shot came right to Josh Saunders in goal. Yet despite the disparity in possession in LA’s favor, neither side had more than one shot on goal.
The Galaxy started the second half with Robbie Keane open in front of goal, but his shot missed wide left as he stumbled on the patchy turf. Ten minutes later, it seemed that the Galaxy had taken a deserved lead when Keane took a Beckham pass and nutmegged Tally Hall. Yet Keane was judged to be offside, a call that seemed to be correct, but only just. Beckham tried to send Keane through but his first pass was deflected. The delay for the second pass left Keane drifting just a shoulder’s length past the Houston line. The Dynamo responded immediately with Corey Ashe hitting the side net just a minute after Keane’s no-goal. But that was as close Houston came as the absence of their star midfielder, Brad Davis, was obvious with each loss of possession. Adam Moffat came closest with a header in the 66th minute but otherwise the Galaxy smothered any Dynamo movements as soon as they neared the box.
Mike Magee sent a ball begging in front of the Dynamo goal in the 67th minute as it seemed the Galaxy might never break through. Five minutes later, that feeling was put to rest as LA finally broke the stalemate through a wonderful sequence involving the club’s top three players. A Beckham flick-on found Keane, who used a neat move and a clear mind to skip trying another shot and find Landon Donovan with a perfect through ball into the box. Donovan clipped the ball past Hall with the outside of his right foot and into the lead in the 72nd minute. The goal provided relief for the highly partisan crowd and gave LA the space necessary to finally put away a game they dominated throughout. Donovan forced a good save from Hall in the 79th and Keane passed across the six-yard box in the 81st without a recipient, though the Galaxy came closest to adding a second when Beckham’s free kick in injury time forced a terrific save by Hall. But in the end, one goal was enough, as it had been nine times previous this season. Their tenth 1-0 win of the year, and second against Houston, gives validation to the Beckham signing five long years ago, but also gives MLS a top-seeded champion after several years of lower-seeded entries taking the Cup.
As Galaxy and Dynamo supporters exited the ground and headed back into the rain and cold outside the Home Depot Center, there can be no question that the better team took the trophy. Landon Donovan won the game’s MVP award, though arguments could have been made for Keane, the latter of whom was the most influential player, at least offensively, in the second half. That performance is also a quieting force with skeptics left without evidence after Keane’s tardy return from Ireland’s Euro 2012 playoff victory over Estonia. Though he leaves without individual hardware, apart from his winner’s medal, Keane achieved exactly what he was brought to Los Angeles to accomplish. He scored important goals, he gave much needed competence above Donovan and provided class that did just enough to push the Galaxy to the top of MLS.
And so the 2011 MLS season ends, bringing to a close the sixteenth year of the top-flight in North America. MLS will welcome Montreal as its nineteenth club in 2012 while seventeen others hope to enjoy the celebration the Galaxy just shared with their fans.