CARSON, Calif. – The sight of the reclusive Philip Anschutz lifting the MLS Cup trophy that bears his name showed how much this title meant to the Los Angeles Galaxy, but the actions and the words of goalscorer and MLS Cup MVP Landon Donovan explained how far the club had come to reach this point.
Donovan popped up once again at the opportune moment to score his fourth goal in five MLS Cup appearances and send heavily favored Los Angles to its third triumph.
In a forgettable game marred by a choppy and damp playing surface, the heralded trio of Galaxy Designated Players provided the difference and showed why they deserve to cash their hefty paychecks. David Beckham offered the headed flick from a long ball, Robbie Keane scampered around and slotted through and Donovan tucked home with aplomb to vanquish the overmatched Dynamo after 72 minutes.
As he reflected upon this cathartic victory, Donovan revealed just how far the fractured team of the Beckham Experiment and the Ruud Gullit era has progressed under Bruce Arena's steady guidance by removing his slice of glory from the importance of the night itself.
“To be honest, the actual goal doesn't mean a whole lot to me,” Donovan said. “I – for the last month – have been so determined to win. I didn't care who scored. I didn't care if it was an own goal. I didn't care how the ball went in. I just wanted it to go in. I mean that wholeheartedly. Winning feels so good. The goals come and go, but the moment the whistle blew will survive.”
Such selfless gestures seemed far off in the distance when Beckham and Donovan sniped over commitments and dinner checks a few years ago. The enmity between the two players has long since passed. If the words exchanged between the two stars on the podium after the match supply any reasonable correlation to their actual feelings, then the fissures have healed to create a mixture of admiration and respect.
The bridge between those two stars has paved the way for Arena to mold together a unit worthy of a title. At every juncture during this campaign, every member of the Galaxy's squad has responded to challenges and overcome them. Not just Beckham, Donovan and the latecomer Keane. This triumph owed just as much to the contributions of Todd Dunivant, Omar Gonzalez, Juninho, Mike Magee, Josh Saunders and many others as it did to the big names under the bright lights.
Singling out those consistent performers seems appropriate for a side built upon the premise that three stars simply aren't enough to win. Los Angeles may spend far more money than every side not named New York, but it did not purchase this title. It forged this triumph on the practice field as it established its stingy shape and figured out how best to deploy its wealth of talents on the counter.
“We're lucky to have a player like (Donovan) and we're lucky to have the players we have throughout our team,” Beckham said. “Every one of them has been exceptional this year. Whether we've had players injured or suspended, we've had players that have stepped up. It's not who was in the starting XI tonight. It's about every one of our players and every one of our staff because everyone contributes. It's been a good effort by everyone involved at this club.”
As odd as it sounds to say for a club with a surplus of resources in comparison to its final opponent and nearly every other MLS club, the Galaxy secured these moments of jubilation by wading through more than its fair share of adversity.
Beckham and Donovan struggled with injuries for much of the season, while several other key components flitted in and out of the lineup. Juan Pablo Angel didn't pan out as the primary striker and left a large hole up front until Keane arrived to add his movement and his predatory instinct to the cause. International demands pried a few players away at inopportune times. CONCACAF Champions League demands led to a congested fixture list and a whole host of associated demands heaped upon the squad.
“This has been a long year, a trying year,” Donovan said. “I gotta say there's times through it all when you get tired and you mentally wear down. (Arena) keeps us going. Bruce is on us constantly, but it keeps us going.”
Point to the wage bill all you want, but this title sprouted from Arena's ability to build a squad, manage its personalities and organize it well enough to compete in every single match. The stars may have contributed the final goal, but the management and the system carried them to it. This Galaxy side excelled because it kept clean sheets and scored at the right time to turn one point into three more often than not.
One-nil on the night made it 11 such results for the Galaxy in regular season and playoff matches. The statistic shows that this particular season of brilliance – and, really, it's a streak that extends into last year for the Supporters' Shield winners in 2010 and 2011 – originated from a far more pragmatic approach than most people would expect for such a dominant and well-funded side.
Silverware diminishes all sorts of aesthetic quibbles and exorcises all sorts of demons. This MLS Cup alleviates some of the sting from that disappointing defeat to Real Salt Lake at this stage in 2009 and the Western Conference final loss to FC Dallas last year. It complements Beckham's staggering off-the-field success with the highest on-the-field honor available in the U.S. as he contemplates a departure to Paris Saint-Germain. It places Arena atop the coaching heap with three MLS Cup victories. And, most importantly, it validates this Galaxy squad as one of the best the league has ever seen.
Yes, it took plenty of money to construct this group and reach this moment. But the buildup to this ultimate vindication also required application, cohesiveness and grit to turn the bickering of the past and the disappointment of the previous two Novembers into this glittering collective accomplishment.
“This year, we were determined,” Arena said. “We worked our asses off to get there. It makes it even sweeter because nothing was given to us. We worked our asses off to build this team to be a champion. Without a doubt, it's a (great) feeling.”
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.