Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
CARSON, Calif. — No Major League Soccer team with a Designated Player had won an MLS Cup prior to Sunday night.
In one defining moment, three DPs combined to buck that trend.
Landon Donovan finished off a pass from Robbie Keane in the 72nd minute to break a scoreless deadlock and deliver a third MLS Cup to the Los Angeles Galaxy following a 1-0 result over the Houston Dynamo in front of 30,281 at the Home Depot Center.
David Beckham, who revealed that he was playing with a torn hamstring that he suffered in training on Tuesday, started the sequence by flicking a header toward Keane, who shook by defender Bobby Boswell before finding Donovan making a run into space. Donovan, who won match MVP honors, touched his shot by goalkeeper Tally Hall and inside the far post before bolting for the corner flag with a sliding celebration.
"For the last month I have been, like the rest of these guys, so determined to win," Donovan said. "I didn't care who scored. I didn't care if it was an own goal. I didn't care how the ball went in. I just wanted it to go in, and I mean that wholeheartedly. Winning feels so good. The goals come and go, but the moment when the whistle blew is what I'll remember."
The goal came after a substitution and tactical shift pushed Donovan into a forward parternship with Keane at around the hour mark of the match.
"When I get there, my sole purpose is to be as aggressive as possible and to make good runs," Donovan said. "People, justifiably so, see Robbie as a great goal scorer, but he's a great soccer player. The pass he gave me for the goal was fantastic. Absolutely world class."
The goal was Donovan's 20th MLS postseason goal — a league record — and the latest in a long line of important goals he's scored in his storied career for both club and country.
"Landon's a great player, and he knew that this was an important game for him to step up and be on his game tonight," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who became the first coach in MLS history to win three MLS Cup titles but hadn't won it all since doing so with D.C. United in 1997.
Playing without injured league MVP candidate Brad Davis, Houston struggled to maintain a high level of effective possession throughout the match. Making matters worse for the Dynamo, centerback Geoff Cameron picked up a knee injury at around the 30-minute mark after having his leg get stretched awkwardly while defending a cross.
Cameron endured to last the full 90 minutes, but Houston coach Dom Kinnear revealed that his typical level of effectiveness in moving things forward was limited.
"He wasn't his normal self," Kinnear said. "His injury did affect the way he played."
The Dynamo never really challenged Los Angeles goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who only had to make one save — on a Danny Cruz shot from 30 yards that was hit directly at him — to preserve the clean sheet.
Even as dominant in possession as they were throughout, the Galaxy spoiled a number of solid chances to put Houston away early.
Forward Adam Cristman, pressed into starting duty because of an injury to Chad Barrett, missed two golden opportunities, including a clear 12th-minute header off a Beckham corner kick.
Keane missed a 49th-minute chance from inside the area as well, pushing a clear look by the far post.
"We certainly didn't do well around the penalty area," Arena said. "There were a few more goals out there for us."
Los Angeles appeared to go ahead just prior to the hour mark, but Keane was whistled for a tight offside call that negated a goal — and what would have been an assist for Beckham, who played Keane into the box with a chip. Nevertheless, Beckham concluded his fifth, and potentially final, season with the Galaxy with a long-coveted championship.
"Being successful always feel good," Beckham said. "Proving people wrong feels even more good. People doubted us. We're the Galaxy, we're the biggest club in this league, and we're proud tonight."
The victory polished off a landmark season for the Galaxy, who went unbeaten at home, captured a second straight Supporters' Shield and further cemented its place as the premiere MLS franchise.
"To have the regular season we had, throw in the CONCACAF Champions League and then win the MLS Cup is a heck of an accomplishment," Arena said.