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MLS Cup Final Recap: LA Galaxy 3–1 Houston Dynamo

Coming into the game, most predictions had the star power of the LA Galaxy triumphing over the Houston Dynamo, marking David Beckham’s final MLS game with his second straight Cup Final win. That is, of course, what happened, but this was a game that LA could have won much more comfortably.

First Half

Early the game, Houston, which played in its favored 4-2-2, was doing something few would have expected against LA’s talented 4-3-3: controlling possession. Houston was better on the wings, as would be expected given their talent there, but considering the LA midfield, the amount of time and play Houston had was surprising.

Inside two minutes, Ricardo Clark got things started, and had his high shot saved. That was the only real chance in the first ten minutes, but Houston was essentially in control, reducing LA to counterattacks. Still, with David Beckham launching those counterattacks, and sending the ball to Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, Houston had to be on guard. Indeed, in the thirteenth minute those three LA headliners should have put the Galaxy into the lead.

David Beckham collected the ball just outside his own box, and lofted a ball out wide to Keane on the left at the halfway line. Keane beat the defense to the ball and was bearing down on goal. The ball was too close to him to properly frame a shot, so he calmly slid the ball across the Houston box to an onrushing Donovan. With the goal at his mercy, and only the keeper to beat, Donovan put it just wide.

Houston were lucky, but the chance kickstarted the LA attack, which gradually came into the game, creating better chances. In the nineteenth minute, a foul outside the Houston box gave Beckham his first look at a free kick. Mike Magee made a great back-post run and met a perfectly driven ball from Beckham. Again, LA should have taken the lead, but Magee could only drive his header into the ground and over the bar, all from within the six-yard box.

Shortly thereafter, Houston had a chance of its own, as a ball over the defense on the Galaxy’s left came to Houston’s Kofi Sarkodie, who dinked the ball through his man’s legs and was into the box, one-on-one with the keeper, but his toe-poke shot was smartly pushed over the bar.

Play devolved from there, with neither team producing anything of note. Play slowed down, and the game turned into a succession of lazy midfield turnovers for both teams. I’ll be honest—I played a tournament myself, earlier in the day, and was having trouble staying awake.

But just when the half was about to peter weakly out, an early ball over the top from inside the Houston half found Calen Carr making a very smart run off his defender’s shoulder. He bore in on the LA goal alone and did what Donovan and Magee couldn’t—he finished.

Second Half

The Galaxy came out with a lot more fire in the second half, but Houston matched them, and the early stages were end-to-end. In the forty-eighth minute, Keane put the ball in the net from a free kick, but was rightly called for offsides. LA wasn’t done pressing, though, and in the fifty-third minute, Tally Hall was forced to come out of his box and clear the ball off Donovan’s toes after a ball over the top nearly put Donovan in.

In the fifty-fifth minute, Carr nearly made it two for Houston after getting to a cross from Will Bruin, but his header was saved. In the fifty-seventh, though, the key event of the game occured. Carr, Houston’s outstanding player thus far, collided with LA defender Omar Gonzalez, striking knees. The impact put Carr on the ground, and he was unable to continue. It was not a good omen for what was to come.

A Los Angeles free kick outside the Houston box in the sixtieth minute was put out for a corner. Beckham’s resulting corner nearly went in on its own, but Hall palmed it out. LA recovered possession and recycled the ball, which came to Juninho in the center. His lofted ball into the box found Gonzalez, who smartly scored his header across Hall.

Houston was rocked by the equalizer, and in truth never recovered. In the sixty-third, LA seemed to take the lead, Gonzalez knocking a ball down for Keane to poke home, but the goal was called back for the slightest of fouls by Gonzalez on Bruin.

The reprieve did not last long.

One minute later, after a scramble in the Houston box, an attempted overhead kick by Keane was handled by Clark, and the Galaxy had a penalty. Landon Donovan, looking to become the all-time leading scorer in MLS (regular season and playoffs combined) put it away without difficulty.

For the next twenty minutes, Houston had a chance here and there, but LA was on top. Houston had a late chance in the eighty-ninth minute when a Brad Davis cross found Clark, trying to make amends for his earlier error, but his header was saved.

After three minutes of extra time, notable mostly for LA taking the ball into the corners and killing time, LA had their icing. Magee gave Keane one more chance to score, putting him in on Hall. Keane failed to score, but Hall brought him down, and LA had their second penalty of the night. Keane, likely the best player in MLS since late July, duly scored the last goal of the MLS season, and the LA Galaxy won the cup for the second straight year, 3–1.

Conclusion

We can argue from dawn ’til dusk about whether the MLS playoff format actually results in the best two teams fighting it out for the cup, but Houston and LA were worthy competitors in this game. And, in the end,  LA was clearly the superior side. After a somewhat listless first half that should have resulted in at least one LA goal, and going behind yet again, the Galaxy came out in the second half and simply showed their class. David Beckham, and perhaps Landon Donovan, too, leave MLS as deserved champions.

 

2 Comments

  1. never been a beckham hater. think he has been a big asset to the league in drawing interest. happy to see him go out and top.

  2. It was a shame to see the goal differential in this game come down to the 2 PKs. That being said, the handball was clearly a correct call, and Houston was lucky to only have the card and PK awarded on the Keane charge to the goal. It could have been an ejection, which would have been a supportable call. Loved how the game went so clearly from a Houston dominated first half to an LA dominated second half. Best final match that I have seen from MLS.

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