Galaxy forward Landon Donovan (10) is congratulated by midfielders David… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
Landon Donovan hasn’t decided yet whether the Major League Soccer Cup final on Saturday will be his last game with the Galaxy. But if that proves to be the case, he picked up a nice parting gift on his way out the door while giving the team and a record Home Depot Center crowd of 30,510 something by which to remember him.
Because it was Donovan’s penalty-kick goal in the 65th minute that snapped a tie and sent the Galaxy on the way to its second consecutive league title with a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo.
The victory was a record-tying fifth in an MLS Cup for Donovan, who was playing in his sixth final, also a record. In addition, the goal was the 22nd for Donovan in postseason play and his fifth in a Cup final, extending two other MLS records.
What’s more, Donovan’s record-setting day also sent David Beckham home a winner. Beckham, who won league titles in his final seasons with both Real Madrid and Manchester United, has said Saturday’s game would be his last competitive match for the Galaxy.
Houston’s Ricardo Clark drew the foul that set up the go-ahead penalty kick, sticking a hand in front of a Robbie Keane shot during a mad scramble in the area. And Donovan, a deadly shot from the penalty spot, made the Dynamo pay, hesitating briefly before driving his shot into the lower right-hand corner of the net to give the Galaxy its first lead of the day.
Keane’s penalty-kick goal in stoppage time, his sixth score of the playoffs, gave the Galaxy an unnecessary insurance goal. And moments later Beckham was subbed out to a loud ovation.
Houston led, 1-0, at halftime on Calen Carr’s goal in the 44th minute. And Carr nearly doubled the score 10 minutes into the second half when he headed a Will Bruin cross toward the far post. But Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders made a diving save just short of the goal line.
Four minutes later Carr was gone after injuring his leg on an aggressive challenge from Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, and that’s when the Galaxy comeback began.
Gonzalez got it started, outleaping a pair of Houston defenders to head in a Juninho cross in the 60th minute.
The Galaxy appeared to go in front three minutes later when Keane found the back of the net from close range following another Gonzalez header. But Gonzalez was called for the foul this time, erasing the score. Earlier in the half another Keane score was wiped out by an offside call.
Both those mistakes were largely forgotten after Donovan’s penalty-kick goal, although the Galaxy -- and especially Saunders -- had to withstand a furious charge from Houston, which lost 1-0 in last season's MLS Cup, over the final 25 minutes.
Calen Carr, whose status for the Major League Soccer championship game on Saturday was questionable up until game time, made his presence felt with a late first-half gal to give the Houston Dynamo a 1-0 lead over the Galaxy at intermission at Home Depot Center.
Carr dashed past rookie defender Tommy Meyer and took a beautiful pass from midfielder Adam Moffat up the right wing before beating Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Sauders with a right-footed shot into the upper left corner for the only score so far in the MLS Cup.
Carr, who strained a hamstring in the Eastern Conference semifinals, missed Houston’s last two games –- and he hurt the Galaxy in this one, putting the exclamation point on a fast-paced and entertaining first half that had produced little more than frustration for both teams until he scored.
The game will be the last competitive match in a Galaxy uniform for midfielder David Beckham and he was spectacular in the first 25 minutes, sending a series of long, dangerous passes deep into the Houston end.
Not surprisingly it was a long Beckham through ball in the 13th minute that set up the Galaxy’s best first-half scoring opportunity. The pass up the left wing found Robbie Keane all alone, but after a Houston defender caught him from behind, Keane sent the ball across the 18-yard box to a wide-open Landon Donovan, who inexplicably missed the easy chance wide right.
Then in the 19th minute a beautiful Beckham free kick bent into the box for Mike Magee, whose header was off target.
A right-footed Juninho rocket from about 20 yards also missed –- narrowly –- at the left post five minutes later.
Houston, which played a physical and aggressive first 45 minutes, had a chance to score in the 26th minute when defender Kofi Sarkodie briefly eluded Meyer and chipped the ball at the net from just outside the six-yard box. But the ball deflected over the crossbar, landing atop the net.
The Galaxy looked unsteady in the early going, with Donovan taking a Christian Wilhelmsson pass offside to short-circuit one chance while a sloppy clearance from Saunders at the other end gave the Dynamo a good chance in the fourth minute.