In an electric atmosphere at the Home Depot Center on Sunday evening, Los Angeles Galaxy defeated Houston Dynamo 1-0, securing their first MLS Cup of the David Beckham era, and ending five years of frustration in the process. On a night tinged with both relief and satisfaction, the California side ensured that their fans went home with smiles on their faces.
Bruce Arena, in his second MLS Cup as Galaxy coach, compared this success to his team’s last appearance at this stage in his post-match analysis: “In 2009 we just weren’t ready. We wouldn’t have appreciated winning the title as much. You have to understand how tough it is to win to really savour it.”
Appointed in the summer of 2008 to not only bring success back to the LA club but also justify the hugely lucrative contract offered to Beckham 12 months before, the former USA coach and his players have finally put an end to the trophy drought that had become a source of ridicule in certain quarters. “Tonight we’ve silenced a few critics, including me,” said Beckham with a wry smile at the post-match press conference.
“What a great feeling it is to win!” exclaimed Landon Donovan, the team’s talismanic captain and scorer of the winning goal in the second half. "Taking the title at home after a month of hard work and pressure is an enormous achievement. We wanted it so much - it’s just an extraordinary feeling that I’ll never forget,” continued the experienced USA international, who stayed in Los Angeles to prepare for the final while Jurgen Klinsmann and his charges headed to Europe for a pair of friendly matches.
Midfielder Mike Magee told FIFA.com from a champagne-drenched changing room: “It’s the result of three years of real graft. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, we’ve been totally focused on winning this trophy. It’s taken a bit of time, but we weren’t going to let it slip through our grasp this time."
“We really pulled together as a group like never before; I’d never experienced such an atmosphere in my time here,” added the player who scored crucial goals in LA’s two earlier play-off rounds, against Real Salt Lake and New York Red Bulls.
Strongly fancied but beaten nonetheless in the MLS Cup two years ago, and crushed at home by FC Dallas in the Western Conference final last season, the Galaxy were finally able to live up to their favourites' tag. Having previously garnered little reward from a significant investment in players, there was a genuine sense of joy at the Home Depot Center following the team’s tight but well-deserved victory.
“This is our year,” centre-back Omar Gonzalez had said in the run-up to Sunday’s big event. “There were some tough moments, both mentally and physically, but we never took our foot off the pedal,” added Donovan in a voice trembling with emotion.
Bruce Arena proceeded to place a hand on his captain’s shoulder, a paternal gesture that revealed the depth of the relationship between the two men who played key roles in propelling the USA to the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™.
Beckham discusses digging deep, future
Beckham, celebrating as if it was his first-ever trophy, was keen to stress the collective aspect of the success achieved in 2011: “It’s been a true team effort. We had a lot of injuries and suspensions during the season, so every player in our squad got a chance to contribute. Spare a thought for our forward Chad Barrett, who’s injured. Without him, we wouldn’t be here partying tonight.
“We played three very tough matches in the space of nine days. Everyone had a dip in form at some point and was able to count on his team-mates to help him through it. Playing as a team was what enabled us to win. I’ve just experienced the greatest two weeks in a fantastic five years with the club."
Donovan said of his friend: "“By playing with an injury these last few weeks, David’s been an inspiration to us. He encouraged us to push ourselves to the limit, when it seemed like our legs and minds were at breaking point."
But could it be that the former England captain’s first American championship was secured in his final MLS game? With many Galaxy fans wondering about the future of their star player, Beckham did not completely rule out the possibility of remaining with his current employers.
He said: “I’m used to all the speculation. I’m a Galaxy player and proud of it. We’re heading off on a tour in a couple of weeks, so I’ll take my time before making a decision. I’ve got a few different options in front of me, so we’ll see."
Referring to the celebrations that awaited him later that evening, he concluded with a grin: “Beer and champagne should help me forget that I’m exhausted.”