Galaxy forward Landon Donovan tries to get around Real Salt Lake's… (Elaine Thompson / Associated…)
Reporting from Seattle — A cold night, two exhausted teams, overtime inconclusive, penalty kicks underway and a national championship on the line.
That was the scenario at Qwest Field on Sunday night when Landon Donovan stepped up to take his penalty.
The Galaxy and Real Salt Lake had played each other to a 1-1 standstill after 120 minutes, including a half-hour of overtime, in front of a wind-chilled crowd of 46,011 in Major League Soccer's 2009 title game.
It had all come down to spot kicks from 12 yards, kicks that saw the Utah side prevail, 5-4, to win its first MLS title in only its fifth season of existence.
Donovan did his usual pre-kick ritual, then stepped up and sent the ball high over goalkeeper Nick Rimando's crossbar.
"I just put it in the air," a disconsolate Donovan said. "It was partially due to tired legs and not concentrating in that moment."
Before Sunday night, Donovan had scored on 19 of 21 penalty kicks in MLS regular-season games and was two for two in the MLS playoffs. His only two misses were both the result of goalkeeper saves.
This time, his shot soared into the night sky.
Rimando, a former UCLA goalkeeper, said he had delayed committing himself either way in an effort to throw Donovan off stride.
"Just staying [in place] that extra bit made him think a little bit," Rimando said.
But it was not only Donovan who failed. The Galaxy's Edson Buddle and Jovan Kirovski both had their shots saved by Rimando, while David Beckham, Gregg Berhalter, Mike Magee and Chris Klein each scored for Los Angeles.
For Real Salt Lake, Clint Mathis, Robbie Findley, Ned Grabavoy, Chris Wingert and Robbie Russell all scored, while Kyle Beckerman and Andy Williams had their attempts saved by Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
"You know, at the end of 120 minutes, it's tough on players," said Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena. "They're tired. I thought both goalkeepers were great."
When Russell's penalty kick hit the back of the net to give Real the championship, Galaxy heads dropped. The players had given everything, only to fall in a shootout.
Beckham and Donovan hugged briefly. It was a bitterly disappointing end to a memorable season. Los Angeles had been seeking its third MLS title and its first since 2005, but fell at the final hurdle.
Real Salt Lake was the team of destiny. It was the last team to qualify for the playoffs and did so on the final day of the regular season.
Since then, it has not lost, first ousting the defending champion Columbus Crew from the playoffs, then beating the Chicago Fire to win the Eastern Conference title, and on Sunday night overcoming the favored Galaxy.
Coach Jason Kreis became the fourth former MLS player to win a championship as a coach, joining Frank Yallop, Dominic Kinnear and Peter Nowak.
Kreis was understandably elated.
"Where to begin?" he asked. "I started off with a dream and an idea about what this team could look like and would look like over time.
"At certain points in this season we saw what were capable of. We saw that when we played our best soccer, we were one of the best teams in the league.
"So now it's nice to say we are the best team in the league."
Los Angeles took the lead in the 41st minute when Beckham passed the ball to Donovan and Donovan sent a perfect cross to Magee at the far post. Magee side-footed the ball into the net from a yard or two.
Real tied it up in the 64th minute when Findley scored.
At the end of the 90 minutes of regulation, Beckham sank to the artificial turf, removed his right boot and rubbed his bone-bruised foot.
He had taken three pain-killing injections before the match.
"It wore off after about 15 minutes," he said.
Overtime came and went without settling the issue. It went to penalty kicks. Beckham started things off by making his shot. Then things went awry.
"It's Russian roulette," Beckham said. "It's not a nice way to go out, but it's the way it is in soccer."