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Galaxy makes a big splash to win the MLS title

L.A. beats Houston, 1-0, on a second-half goal by Landon Donovan at a rain-soaked Home Depot Center.

November 20, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Landon Donovan scores the game-winning goal over Houston's Tally Hall on Sunday. It was also the game's only goal at the soggy Home Depot Center in Carson.
Landon Donovan scores the game-winning goal over Houston's Tally… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

He came, he saw and finally on Sunday David Beckham conquered U.S. soccer, helping the Galaxy to a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo in Major League Soccer's Cup final in front of a soggy sell-out crowd of 30,281 at the Home Depot Center.

The championship, which came on Landon Donovan's goal in the 72nd minute, was the third for the Galaxy. And it gave Coach Bruce Arena a league-record three titles.

But it may have been most important for Beckham, who needed a title to add an exclamation point to his controversial and transformative five years in MLS, ones in which he brought the Galaxy unprecedented levels of credibility and cash yet couldn't bring them a title.

Now, however, he's a triple-crown winner, with his MLS championship joining ones won with Manchester United and Real Madrid.

"Being successful always feels good," said Beckham, who played Sunday despite a torn hamstring and the painful remnants of a mid-season stress fracture in his spine.

"It's always nice to have doubters along the way. And it's always nice to prove them wrong."

Fittingly, Beckham played a big part in the winning goal, heading the ball ahead to Robbie Keane in the penalty box. Keane, the newest member of the team, then gave a touch pass to Donovan, one of only three players remaining from the Galaxy's last championship team in 2005, who curled a shot just inside the post to the far side.

The goal made the Galaxy the first team to win an MLS Cup with a designated player, high-salaried stars whose earnings aren't fully counted against the team's salary cap. And all three of the Galaxy's designated players — Beckham, Donovan and Keane, who are paid $12.2 million combined, three times more than the entire Houston payroll — played a part in the decisive score.

When the game ended 20 nervous minutes later, Donovan raced toward Beckham and jumped in his arms.

"The way David has played through some pretty serious injuries the last few weeks, it inspired me," said Donovan, who had a tense relationship with Beckham in their first two seasons together.

Added Arena: "David's a champion. I've been around great athletes, competitors in my life in different sports. And this guy's as good as it gets. He gutted it out tonight. He obviously wanted to be there."

The Galaxy entered the Cup final having won more games — in both the regular season and the playoffs — over the last three seasons than any other MLS team. But until Sunday it had not won its final one in any of those three years.

And the road the Galaxy took to redemption was not an easy one, rutted by a season-long series of injuries that sidelined every starter for at least one game. It remained a team in transition until mid-August, when they added Keane, giving them the scoring threat they lacked up front.

The Galaxy hasn't lost a game in which Keane has played. Along the way it went unbeaten in 23 games at the Home Depot Center and won 11 games by 1-0 scores.

"The best team in the league from day one to now," Houston Coach Dominic Kinnear said.

Maybe, one questioner suggested to Arena after it was over, the best team in MLS history.

"I'd like to be able to say that," he said. "But how do you measure that? This is a good team and we accomplished a lot this year."

Keeping the team together could be tough though. Beckham, whose contract expires next month, hasn't said whether he'll be back, but his track record isn't promising: He left Manchester United and Real Madrid immediately after winning titles.

On Sunday, however, Beckham wasn't thinking past a long night of celebration.

"I'm going to enjoy the moment," he said. "It's going to be a great night."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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