L.A. hosted the cup, and the Galaxy hoisted the cup after beating the Houston Dynamo 1-0 last night. The result was fitting on many levels – and not just because it gave the league the dream finale, complete with David Beckham riding into the sunset as a champion.
Most importantly, L.A. were the better team, playing well, manufacturing chances and getting a quality goal from Landon Donovan after a smart header by Beckham and a quality lay-off from fellow Designated Player Robbie Keane. The Galaxy played Arena-ball to the T, as they have all year, countering quickly, maintaining their defensive shape, and taking advantage of just having better players in key spots. Coach Bruce Arena set this team up to take advantage of Donovan’s and Beckham’s strengths and his own philosophy and last night was a perfect example.
We don’t want to hate on Houston, but they were the classic MLS anti-champion. A decent team with savvy veterans that got hot at the end of the year and used a stingy defense to move through the playoffs. They don’t play with much style, employing a more blatant bunker-counter game than L.A., and they have been heavily dependent on set-piece goals as opposed to creating offense from the run of play. Without Brad Davis, their best player, they were hoping to hold on and steal a win or force penalties. The Dynamo are the type of team that’s won MLS Cup in the past, and may do so again, but it was good to see the better team win.
The Galaxy were easily MLS’s best team during the season, winning the table with weeks to spare. They are also the team with biggest payroll and the broadest international appeal and brand recognition. And much of this comes down to David Beckham. Without him, MLS probably doesn’t have the Designated Player rule, which has led to more big-name guys joining the league. Without him, MLS probably doesn’t raise its profile enough to encourage the kind of stadium development and expansion we’ve seen in Philly, Kansas City, Vancouver, and Salt Lake City. But Becks has been solid this year as a player too – second in the league in assists, always quality on the ball, and deserving of his all-league honor. Folks have been critical of him and his many distractions and split priorities, but this year he focused on the Galaxy. Now he and Arena, Keane and Donovan, and the rest are the champs.