2009 Season in Review
Final Record: 12-6-12, 48 pts. (First, Western Conference)
With the second most wins in MLS history and a pair of MLS Cup championships to their name, the LA Galaxy enter their fifteenth MLS season with renewed spirits following their run to the 2009 MLS Cup Final where they narrowly missed out on the third championship in club history.
Initially formed by LA Soccer Partners, the team played the inaugural 1996 season at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, which was filled to capacity for the opening game - a 2-1 win over the MetroStars behind goals from Cobi Jones and Arash Noamouz.
On June 16 of that inaugural season, more than 92,000 fans packed the Rose Bowl to see the Galaxy defeat the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the U.S. National Team play to a 2-2 draw with Mexico. That days’ crowd of 92,216 was a league record that stood for more than ten years before being broken in 2006. The club has continued in that vein, and has held the league’s average attendance a record nine times in the first 14 years of MLS, including six straight seasons (2003-08) after opening The Home Depot Center in 2003.
Led from the front by El Salvadoran playmaker Mauricio Cienfuegos, U.S. veteran Cobi Jones and Eduardo ‘El Tanque’ Hurtado, and a tight defensive unit organized by team captain Dan Calichman and Robin Fraser, with Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos, the team racked up a 19-13 record on their way to a Western Conference title and a berth in the MLS Cup against D.C. United in 1996.
In a game played in a torrential downpour in Foxboro, Mass., the Galaxy were up 2-0 on goals by Hurtado and Chris Armas before falling 3-2 on a golden goal header by Eddie Pope.
After a 1-7 start to the 1997 season, original head coach Lothar Osiander was replaced by assistant coach Octavio Zambrano, who led the team to a second place finish in the West with a 16-16 record before falling in the playoffs to the Dallas Burn.
In his first full season as head coach in 1998, Zambrano gave his team the chance to push forward in the attack from the opening kick until the final whistle. The players responded by netting 85 times in the regular season, setting an MLS record for goals in a season that still stands today. Cobi Jones (19 goals), Welton (17 goals) and Mauricio Cienfuegos (13 goals) all tallied career-highs for goals and the Galaxy scored three or more goals in 15 of their 32 games.
Offensive firepower however did not come at the expense of defense. Dan Calichman was lost early in the season to a broken leg, but the addition of Paul Caligiuri and the rise of goalkeeper Kevin Hartman allowed the team to hold their opponents to a league low 44 goals and post seven shutouts as the team rolled to a 24-8 record and an MLS record 68 points.
However, regular season success did not carry over into postseason play. After exacting playoff revenge on Dallas with a two-game sweep that saw LA outscore them 9-3, the Galaxy fell to the expansion Chicago Fire in a shootout finish at Soldier Field.
In October 1998, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) purchased the Galaxy with a new vision to become “The club by which all others are measured”. Upon taking over the club, AEG sought to shape the Galaxy into a brand on the local, national and international level.
By the end of AEG’s first full season of ownership, the Galaxy were once again Western Conference champions, this time under new head coach Sigi Schmid, who replaced Zambrano after a 2-3 start to the season. The Los Angeles defense was once again the best in the league, allowing only 29 goals in 32 games.
Schmid led the team to a 20-12 record and berth in MLS Cup, but the curse of Foxboro Stadium continued to haunt the team. Once again playing D.C. United, stalwart defender Robin Fraser was lost to a broken collarbone just minutes into the match, and United was able to claim their third MLS title after a 2-0 win.
In their first full season under Schmid, the Galaxy finished the 2000 season second in the West with a 14-10-8 record, with the eight draws coming courtesy of the discontinuation of the shootout to settle regular season games that were tied at the end of 90 minutes.
While able to sweep the Tampa Bay Mutiny out of the playoffs, Los Angeles fell just shy of a return trip to MLS Cup as they were eliminated by the eventual champion Kansas City Wizards. After a win and a draw in the first two games of the series against the Wizards, the Galaxy fell in Game Three 1-0 before losing again in the sudden death series tiebreaker, that sent K.C. to MLS Cup.
The Galaxy were finally able to take home some silverware in 2001, bringing home the first two championships in club history. Participating in the 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup, they took the regional title with a 3-2 win over Olimpia of Honduras, despite the tournament’s 2001 preseason timeslot.
In league play, a 14-7-5 record once again gave the team second place in the Western Conference and a chance to play for the previously unheard of ‘Treble’ of MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions Cup titles. After disposing of the MetroStars and Chicago, Sigi Schmid’s squad advanced to the MLS Cup, where they fell for a third time, this time to California rivals San Jose on an extra time goal from Dwayne DeRosario. Luis Hernandez and Landon Donovan traded first half strikes to send the game into halftime tied 1-1. Neither team could find a breakthrough in the second half, sending the match to extra time where DeRosario would score the MLS Cup winning goal for the Earthquakes.
Despite still suffering from the sting of defeat in MLS Cup, the Galaxy were able to claim a second honor one week later, winning their first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title. Defender Danny Califf nodded home a golden goal winner in extra time of the Open Cup Final at Titan Stadium in Fullerton to give the Galaxy a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution.
A month before the 2002 season, the Galaxy signed Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz, and the man nicknamed “El Pescadito” or “The Little Fish” immediately staked his claim as one of the top goalscorers in the history of MLS. He scored six goals in his first four games with the club en route to an eventual team record tally of 24 goals on the year for Ruiz who would go on to be named MLS MVP.
The team ended the 2002 season 16-9-3 and in first place in the West, and advanced through the playoffs by demolishing Kansas City and Colorado. The MLS Cup was once again held in Foxboro, but this time it was at the new Gillette Stadium and the opposition was the hometown Revolution.
Playing before a packed house of mostly New England fans, the Galaxy and Revolution were scoreless at the end of ninety minutes. In extra time, it was Ruiz who gave the team their first MLS Cup championship, sliding onto a long cross from Tyrone Marshall and pushing the ball past goalkeeper Adin Brown for the game-winning golden goal, sending Galaxy fans into hysterics.
In 2003, the Galaxy moved to their new base at The Home Depot Center, but were forced to play their first eight games on the road while waiting for construction to be completed for the June home opener. While a 0-4-4 record was respectable, a July trip to South Korea to play against some of the best club sides in the world at the FIFA Peace Cup further crowded the schedule and the team struggled to achieve their best form. LA ended the season with a 9-12-9 record that pitted them against a very strong San Jose team in the playoffs.
The Galaxy claimed a 2-0 win at The Home Depot Center in the first leg of the new playoff system and traveled to Spartan Stadium with high expectations. Those expectations were even higher after scoring twice inside the opening 15 minutes to lead with a 4-0 aggregate score. But the Earthquakes would go on to score five straight goals, four in regulation and one in extra time, to take the series and eliminate the Galaxy en route to winning MLS Cup a few weeks later in Carson.
Before the 2004 season, longtime Galaxy legend Mauricio Cienfuegos announced that he had retired. While the loss of the Salvadoran playmaker was difficult, Schmid was able to replace him with a pair of players in Austrian veteran Andreas Herzog and former U.S. international Jovan Kirovski. However, the Galaxy coach would not be there at the end of the season as he was replaced late in the season by former U.S. National Team head coach Steve Sampson.
Given the changes, the team did well to finish second in the Western Conference with an 11-9-10 record, and beat Colorado in the Western Conference Semifinals before falling to Kansas City in the Conference Final.
In 2005, with the addition of U.S. National Team star forward Landon Donovan, the Galaxy took the coveted ‘Double’ of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup, making it their most successful season to date. With World Cup and Gold Cup duties depleting the roster throughout the season, young players like striker Herculez Gomez - who took the place of Carlos Ruiz who had been traded to Dallas - and defender Ugo Ihemelu were able to step up and show their talents.
In late September, the club claimed their second U.S. Open Cup title with a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at The Home Depot Center courtesy of a Gomez goal. They made the MLS playoffs via the final Western Conference slot and advanced to the MLS Cup after defeating San Jose 4-2 on aggregate in the Western Conference Semifinals and knocking off Colorado 2-0 in the Western Conference Championship behind two Landon Donovan goals to book a spot in the MLS Cup. Once again the New England Revolution were the opponent; with the newly-opened Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas serving as the venue.
Just as in 2002, the two sides were scoreless after 90 minutes, only for the Galaxy to earn a victory courtesy of an extra time goal from a Guatemalan player. This time, it was a glorious volley from Guillermo ‘El Pando’ Ramirez – just his second goal of the season and the first from the run of play that gave the Galaxy a 1-0 victory and sent the trophy back to Los Angeles.
However, the joy of 2005 was soon replaced by a tumultuous 2006 that saw the tragic death of the club’s President and General Manager Doug Hamilton on a flight back from Costa Rica where the Galaxy had just lost in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The loss of the team’s chief architect was felt on the field as well as the Galaxy struggled to defend their MLS Cup championship. In June, Frank Yallop was hired to replace Steve Sampson and he began to pull the club out of its early season struggles. However, a late season run, which included the club’s capture of the Honda SuperClasico against Chivas USA, was not enough and LA missed the playoffs for the first time ever
The Galaxy fared slightly better in the Open Cup, returning to the Final four the fourth time in six years, only to fail to defend its 2005 title, falling 3-1 to the Chicago Fire at TOYOTA Park.
The 2007 campaign started with a bang as the club announced in January that it had signed English midfielder David Beckham. One of the world’s greatest players, Beckham would come to LA in July after finishing up his contract at Real Madrid, helping them win the La Liga Championship.
July also saw the Galaxy debut a new look as well as their newest player with the unveiling of the Galaxy’s new brand, colors and logo. A classic look of white jerseys with navy blue piping, white shorts and white socks was used for the club’s primary kit while navy blue and gold was featured on the secondary uniform. The Galaxy’s new logo was a traditional navy blue crest which prominently features a quasar, which is the heart of a Galaxy.
Despite making his debut in front of a sold out crowd and millions of viewers on ESPN, Beckham’s first season in LA was blighted by injuries to both himself and the rest of the Galaxy squad. Once again, Frank Yallop’s team put together a late season run, only to fall just short, losing their final game of the season in Chicago to miss out on a playoff berth by the narrowest of margins.
The 2007 season also saw the Galaxy’s participation in the inaugural SuperLiga, which pitted the best teams in the United States against the best club teams in Mexico. The Galaxy finished at the top of their group, despite falling to Chivas de Guadalajara at the L.A. Coliseum, by defeating FC Dallas and Pachuca to set up a semifinal meeting with D.C. United. Goals in that game from Beckham, his first for the club, and Landon Donovan sent LA through to the Final where they would once again meet Pachuca. The visitors from Mexico took an early lead in the Final, only for Chris Klein to equalize with an acrobatic bicycle kick deep into second half stoppage time, sending the game to extra time. The Galaxy had the better of the chances in the extra 30 minutes, but were unable to break the deadlock, sending the game to penalties where Pachuca would emerge victorious 4-3.
But success in SuperLiga was not enough and Yallop was released from his contract in November. He was replaced by former Dutch international Ruud Gullit, one of the game’s all-time greats.
However, despite success early in 2008, the Galaxy struggled in the middle of the season, going a club record 12 games without a win and slipped to the bottom of the standings. Gullit left the club in August and was replaced by two-time MLS Cup champion coach Bruce Arena, who is the all-time leader in wins by a coach in U.S. National Team history. However, despite having a roster that included Landon Donovan, who led MLS with 20 goals in 25 games, Edson Buddle, whose 15 goals were a career-high and the third most in the league, as well as Beckham, Sean Franklin, Chris Klein and Eddie Lewis, the Galaxy were unable to qualify for the MLS Playoffs for the third straight season.
Unlike the previous season, the 2009 campaign did not start brightly as the club managed just one win in their first 11 games. However, Bruce Arena’s team also lost just once in that time, going 1-1-9 to open the season while tallying a 10-game unbeaten streak from early April until early June for the fourth longest unbeaten streak in club history.
Setting the tone for the Galaxy in the early part of the season was the club’s newly stingy defense. After allowing a club record 62 goals in 2008, Arena set about to bolster the club’s back line, brining in goalkeepers Donovan Ricketts and Josh Saunders as well as established veterans like Gregg Berhalter, Todd Dunivant, Dema Kovalenko and Stefani Miglioranzi and a pair of rookies in A.J. DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez to go along with the 2008 Rookie of the Year, Sean Franklin. That group would go on to set an MLS record by allowing 31 fewer goals on the season and set a club record with 12 clean sheets.
At the other end of the field, Landon Donovan once again led the way over the first third of the season before heading to South Africa for the FIFA Confederations Cup in early June. Shortly before his return, the club acquired Alecko Eskandarian from Chivas USA to provide some help in the attack and the former No. 1 overall pick did not disappoint, scoring twice his first three games with the club.
The attack received another boost in mid July when David Beckham re-joined the club after spending the first half of the year on loan at AC Milan. High profile friendlies against Milan and Barcelona, in which Beckham scored in front of more than 93,000 fans at the Rose Bowl, setting the team up for a late season surge
With the club now at full strength, the top spot in the Western Conference soon became a distinct possibility. Beckham scored his first goal of the year in a win over Chivas USA on August 29, securing the Honda SuperClasico title for the Galaxy. Just over a month later, a 1-0 win over Chicago saw LA move into first place in the Western Conference for the first time since June 2008 and clinched the club’s first playoff berth since 2005. A draw at Houston and a home win over San Jose allowed the Galaxy to claim the top seed in the Western Conference for the first time since 2002 and set up a playoff meeting with Chivas USA.
The entire city of Los Angeles was on edge as the city’s two clubs met in the Western Conference Semifinal Series at The Home Depot Center. In the first-ever postseason meeting between the two sides, Chivas USA were the home team in the first game of the series. Mike Magee and Landon Donovan scored for the Galaxy in that game as they managed to pull out a 2-2 draw, setting up a winner-take-all return leg. The Galaxy were the home team this time and before a capacity crowd, claimed a 1-0 win behind Landon’s Donovan’s second half penalty kick to dispatch Chivas USA and send LA to the Western Conference Championship.
All that was left to stand between the Galaxy and a record sixth trip to MLS Cup was the Houston Dynamo. The 90 minutes of regulation was not enough to decide a winner as the game remained scoreless. Late in the first half of extra time, Gregg Berhalter scored his first-ever goal for the club to put LA in front. Donovan added a penalty kick, his 17th career postseason goal, making him the all-time leader in MLS playoff goals, late on to seal a 2-0 win for the Galaxy and send the club back to MLS Cup in Seattle.
There, the opponent would be Real Salt Lake who won the Eastern Conference Championship after finishing fifth in the West and then dispatching the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire. The Galaxy took a 1-0 lead just before halftime when Beckham and Donovan combined to set up Magee for his second goal of the playoffs. But after the break things turned for LA as former Galaxy forward Robbie Findley scored to tie the score at 1-1 and Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts suffered a broken hand and was forced to exit the game. Omar Gonzalez would also have to go off because of an injury before the game went to extra time.
The scoreline would remain level through the 30 minutes of extra time, making MLS Cup 2009 the league’s second championship game to be decided on penalties. Despite a pair of saves by Josh Saunders in the shootout, the Galaxy fell 5-4 on penalties, making Real Salt Lake the 2009 MLS Cup champions.
After getting so close to earning a third MLS Cup championship in 2009, Bruce Arena’s team is once again primed to make a return to MLS Cup and earning their first piece of silverware in five years.
Regular Season Western Conference Champions: 1996, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2009
Western Conference Champions: 1996, 1999, 2005, 2009
Supporters’ Shield: 1998, 2002
MLS Cup Champions: 2002, 2005
U.S. Open Cup Champions: 2001, 2005
CONCACAF Champions’ Cup Winners: 2000