Keith Hickey: Consistently elite Galaxy make another final

American soccer's flagship club has a chance to win its fifth MLS Cup, and has created a winning culture unparalleled in the league.
SEATTLE — It was Alexi Lalas who first used the term "Super Club." The then-LA Galaxy general manager had big ambitions when he oversaw the signing of David Beckham back in 2007. The former U.S. national team defender is now long gone from the LA hierarchy, happily ensconced at ESPN, but his assessment has only become more true at the USA's leading soccer club.

For the ninth time in Major League Soccer's 19 seasons, the Carson, California-based side is taking part in the championship decider. Even more incredibly, it's there for the fourth time in six seasons, and could win its third title in four years and become the first club with five stars on its shirt should it defeat the New England Revolution on Sunday.

For Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, the success is part of a positive feedback loop for a club which has attracted some of the league's top talent.

"Once you start winning, everyone knows the feeling, everyone wants more, everyone wants another ring," the 26-year-old said after his team defeated the Seattle Sounders on away goals in the Western Conference final.
THE MLS WRAP
By Ives Galarcep

When the referee blew the final whistle on Saturday’s Eastern Conference final win for the New England Revolution, plenty of celebrating kicked off, but there was also a moment of respect for a legend. The scene helped shed some light into just what Thierry Henry has meant to his team, Major League Soccer, and even the players who have lined up across from him.

Henry announced his departure from the New York Red Bulls on Monday morning, leaving the club after four and a half seasons. It came as no suprise really, and Henry revealed in his announcement that he had made the decision to leave before the 2014 season even began.

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When Seattle took an aggregate lead through two first-half goals, LA came back and found a vital away goal through midfielder Juninho – twice an MLS Cup champion with the Galaxy in 2011 and 2012 – to take charge of the series and sow the seeds of advancement.

"Experience is a factor," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, winner of a league-best four Cup titles. "We've been through this a lot this year. I think we've gotten better in the second half of the season, to protect leads."

Executing crucial comebacks and protecting fragile leads have been hallmarks of Arena's Galaxy teams for much of his tenure. In 2011, LA had to hold onto a 1-0 lead from a Landon Donovan goal for 18 minutes to defeat the Houston Dynamo and claim the Cup. A year later, against the same opponent, it overturned a 1-0 halftime deficit to emerge with a 3-1 win and the third repeat title win in MLS history.

"Since 2009, since I came on this team, we've been a solid team, and have been a contender late in the playoff series pretty much every single year," Gonzalez said. "I think it has to do with the team that Bruce built, he's an excellent manager, an excellent coach, and then the guys in the locker room, just fighting for each other."

Another team, a lesser team, might be distracted if it had to deal with Donovan's impending retirement. The league's all-time leading scorer, who tied the record for playoff assists in the second leg against Seattle, has the chance to win a record sixth MLS Cup in his final professional match. But the Galaxy, they've been down this road before.

"When you become a championship team, you have world-class players," Gonzalez. "We've had David Beckham. The last time we won it, we sent him off when he was gonna retire. It was a circus then, and we know how to handle it.

"Landon's a true professional. We've all seen it, throughout his career. And we want to send him out a champion."

It only makes sense. Landon Donovan is a Galaxy player. And the main attribute of being a Galaxy player? Simply being the best.