(Carson, CA) — With as lopsided a 1-0 victory as has been seen in sixteen years of MLS Cup Finals, the Los Angeles Galaxy overwhelmed the Houston Dynamo en route to the third championship in the franchise’s history. A second half goal from Landon Donovan, who was announced as the MLS Cup MVP, was all the Galaxy would need to finish off a storybook year with a trophy lifting ceremony on their home pitch at The Home Depot Center.
By virtue of the 1-0 victory over the Dynamo, this year’s Galaxy team joins the 2005 San Jose Earthquakes and last season’s Real Salt Lake side as teams that made it through the entire regular season and playoffs unbeaten at home. The glaring difference: The Quakes and RSL were bounced from the playoffs after losing the first match of their conference semifinal series on the road and only managing to draw their vanquisher in the home return leg. The 2011 Los Angeles Galaxy finished a perfect 3-0 at home while outscoring their opponents 6 goals to 2.
All day leading up to kickoff, the greater LA Basin was pounded with a rain storm that served to soak the playing surface at the HDC and make pre-game warm-ups treacherous for both sides. By the time the match started, the rain had subsided and the show went on as planned, but both teams seemed to be thrown off by the pitch conditions. The Galaxy tried their best to work one-touch passing sequences, often in tight places, but often were stymied by a bad bounce or a slipping player. Regardless, Los Angeles asserted their clear dominance over the Dynamo in terms of first half possession.
Where the Galaxy lacked anything was in their ability to finish scoring opportunities. LA enjoyed a 5-0 advantage in corner kicks and had other set piece chances in the first 45 minutes that went lacking. For the most part, it wasn’t the fault of set-piece specialist David Beckham, who repeatedly provided the ball into dangerous spaces. The major culprit wearing Galaxy white was forward Adam Cristman, who on three separate occasions in the first 30 minutes of the match squandered chances to open the scoring.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the two most effective Galaxy players in the opening stanza were Beckham and forward Robbie Keane. The former marshaled the midfield in front of central partner Juninho, spraying passes from touchline to touchline and pushing well into Dynamo defensive territory. The latter continued to show the technical skill on the ball that forced the Houston back four to absorb rather than attack the Los Angeles offensive pressure. Donovan, along with Beckham and Keane part of the designated player trio on the Galaxy, put in a good, if not unremarkable, shift in the first half.
Houston, whose only attacking player that showed promise in the opening 45 minutes was Calen Carr, effectively abandoned any hope of building up any pressure on the Galaxy back four by conceding virtually all possession in the center of the pitch. Luiz Camargo and Adam Moffat, two players that had transformed the Dynamo midfield since being paired up part way through the regular season, provided little in the way of link-up in distributing the ball to their offensive mates. When Houston was able to gain possession, their strategy was to consistently push the ball up the right flank toward Carr, but he repeatedly found few options once he entered their offensive third to create scoring opportunities. As a result of all these circumstances, the Dynamo were credited with a paltry 3 shots in the half, with only one on goal.
Both teams came out to start the second half with the same line-ups, and the match continued in much the same vein as it did before the break. The Dynamo did their best to regroup more in the midfield, and thus avoided any offside calls after being whistled 5 times for that offense in the first half. Possession was still limited, but their ability to play more of the field in and around the center line contributed to an improved chance that they might find a way to open the scoring in the match.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy played with more urgency out of the break, with Donovan especially getting more involved in linking the ball with the forwards. Keane also looked sure to break the scoreless deadlock as his runs into space behind a Dynamo defensive line that shifted higher up the field nearly paid dividends with a near miss in the 49th minute and a goal called back for a questionable offside call in the 56th minute. Given the space that Houston was now leaving exposed in their defensive third, the pace of the game really picked up after halftime.
The real change in the Galaxy’s fortunes came when the disappointing Cristman was replaced by substitute Chris Birchall in the 57th minute. With the move, Donovan shifted to the front line to replace Cristman and Birchall stationed himself on the left wing. With Los Angeles’s designated player triumvirate now spearheading the attack, the Houston defensive centerback duo of Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron found themselves under constant assault.
Almost immediately, the move to shift the line-up paid dividends as Donovan’s presence up top gave Keane more cushion to accept the ball and make moves toward goal. In the 61st minute, following a Beckham pass into space out of the center circle, Keane raced in on goal with Cameron draped on his shoulder. Lacking the speed to beat the Dynamo defender into the area, Keane tried to elude Cameron in order to get off a shot, but the rest of the Dynamo defense converged on the Irish international and the chance went lacking.
The inevitable Los Angeles goal came in the 72nd minute, when the big-money players justified their collective salaries with a sublime soccer sequence that linked the three DPs forever in the annuals of the MLS Cup. Off a throw-in from the left touchline, Beckham beat his marker to the ball and flicked it forward with his head into the path of Keane. Taking a touch on the ball to bring it centrally, Keane turned Boswell at the top of the area and slid a perfectly weighted pass to a streaking Donovan. With Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall converging on him 10 yards from goal, Donovan lifted the ball out of his reach with the outside of his right boot and sent the ball inside the far post just ahead of clearance minded Houston defender.
The overwhelming partisan crowd at The Home Depot Center roared with approval as the Galaxy players converged on a celebrating Donovan deep in the left corner of the pitch. Having broken through first, the tension on the match had been lifted and the Galaxy played with tremendous confidence over the last 20 minutes of the game.
Not a threat to score for most of the evening, the Dynamo failed to register a single shot in the remaining time, as the Los Angeles defense did what they have been called on to do all season long — protect a 1-0 lead on their home pitch. Going back through the regular season, the Galaxy was all too familiar with the scoreline and what it took to see it through to completion, having accomplished the feat nine times in 2011 at The Home Depot Center. When the final whistle sounded following three minutes of stoppage time, the Galaxy celebrated with abandonment in front of a packed house of 30,281 fans.
2011 MLS Cup Final: Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo
November 20, 2011 — The Home Depot Center
Scoring Summary: LA — Landon Donovan 3 (Robbie Keane 1, David Beckham 4) 72.
Misconduct Summary: HOU — Bobby Boswell (caution; Handball) 13, LA — Adam Cristman (caution; Reckless Tackle) 40, HOU — Andre Hainault (caution; Reckless Foul) 74, LA — David Beckham (caution; Tactical Foul) 82, LA — Landon Donovan (caution; Delaying a Restart) 94+.
Houston Dynamo — Tally Hall, Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Taylor, Danny Cruz (Colin Clark 78), Luiz Camargo, Adam Moffat, Corey Ashe (Je-Vaughn Watson 84), Brian Ching, Calen Carr (Carlo Costly 66). Substitutes Not Used: Will Bruin, Hunter Freeman, Eddie Robinson, Tyler Deric.
LA Galaxy — Josh Saunders, Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee, Adam Cristman (Chris Birchall 57), Robbie Keane. Substitutes Not Used: Gregg Berhalter, Paolo Cardozo, Frankie Hejduk, Jovan Kirovski, Michael Stephens, Donovan Ricketts.