Two years of shocking MLS Cup Playoff exits caused the LA Galaxy to enter the 2011 season on a mission—win the title and dominate in the process.
Despite being led by the star-power of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Omar Gonzalez among others, LA had fallen short of the ultimate prize for two straight seasons. In 2009, the club fell on penalties in the MLS Cup Final to Real Salt Lake and a year later they were crushed at home by FC Dallas, 3-0, in the Western Conference Championship. In 2011, LA would try again for a third time, this time knowing that the MLS Cup would take place on their home pitch at The Home Depot Center.
The 2011 season began with a few bumps in the road; most notably an eye-opening 4-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake in the third game of the season, the Galaxy quickly got into a rhythm, and began to build and then widen a lead atop the league standings. As head coach Bruce Arena sought to fortify his team for the postseason run, he dealt forward Juan Pablo Angel to Chivas USA, and acquired Irish forward Robbie Keane in mid-August.
When the MLS Cup Playoffs began, an unlikely hero in midfielder Mike Magee stepped up, scoring three goals in three playoff games as LA advanced past the New York Red Bulls in the Western Conference Semifinals and Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Championship. The Galaxy were set on a collision for course for a date with the Houston Dynamo in the 2011 MLS Cup Final.
The match featured a coaching battle for the ages as Arena’s star-laden Galaxy face off against Dominic Kinnear’s plucky Dynamo side that was anchored by defender Geoff Cameron, though they were forced to play without star midfielder Brad Davis, an MLS MVP candidate in 2011 who injured his right quad in the Eastern Conference Championship. Despite the fact that the final took place in Southern California, the match began amid an uncharacteristic rain storm that threatened to put a damper on the atmosphere created by the crowd of 30,281—at the time a stadium record.
The rains eventually subsided and the Galaxy, by in large, bossed the match with Adam Cristman going close on a number of occasions and Robbie Keane having a 57th minute goal called back for offside. But 15 minutes later, a beautiful build-up play between LA’s three Designated Players would put LA up for good.
Defender A.J. DeLaGarza started the play by lofting a ball forward to David Beckham, who flicked a header forward toward a streaking Keane. The Irishman pushed up field, cutting past Bobby Boswell, before finding Landon Donovan in mid-stride with a pass that split the Dynamo defense. The Galaxy captain raced onto the ball and used the outside of his right foot to flick a shot, which bounced off the out-stretched glove of goalkeeper Tally Hall and toward the net. Cameron desperately tried to clear out Donovan’s shot at the last moment, but his efforts were not enough to stop the Galaxy and The HDC crowd from exploding with elation as the ball crossed the line and settled into the side-netting.
Donovan’s goal would hold up and LA would have their third MLS Cup title.
LA lifted the trophy for the third time in club history, in what was one of the finest seasons ever for the club. As the blue-and-gold confetti fell down on The HDC, the Galaxy were left to count a laundry list of honors including the 2011 MLS Cup title, 2011 Supporters’ Shield, qualification for the Quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League as well as an undefeated record at home in all competitive matches.
With the title in their possession for the first time since 2005, the Galaxy were able to bring back many of the key pieces in the offseason, like Beckham –who re-signed with LA, bypassing a big-money offer from French giant Paris Saint-Germain— Brazilian midfielder Juninho and defender Sean Franklin, as well as add new –and old— faces like forward Edson Buddle and midfield Marcelo Sarvas.
The stage was set for the 2012 season.
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com