Jeff Gross

LA Galaxy win their fourth MLS title with 3-1 victory over Houston

Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan all scored goals as LA repeated as MLS Champions.

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Omar Gonzalez Caps Incredible Comeback Year

When word came out that Omar Gonzalez had injured himself on his first day on loan in Germany, the speculation wasn't good. Their were first opinions and second opinions, and it seemed likely Gonzalez could miss all of this season. That he was able to come back as soon as he did, without a relapse, is nothing short of remarkable.

Yet, he would never been one the brag about himself. Despite being one of the most talented players in the 2009 draft (you can coin flip between him and Steve Zakuani) he still plays the role of young player that just wants to work hard and learn from the veterans. It's earned him the respect of his peers.

"Omar isn't just a special player," said David Beckham, "he's a special person as well. He works hard, he listens. He's a young player with a lot of talent. I hope someday that he will play for the U.S. national team more regularly because he deserves it."

Certainly it's true that Gonzalez deserves a long look from Jurgen Klinsmann, especially as the back line is a questionable spot for the United States going into the Hexagonal stage. Beckham here was just asked how he felt about Omar's MVP performance, the fact that he feels Omar is a special person was unsolicited. Of course, Beckham also let this nugget go.

"He's been dancing around in there [locker room] naked, so he definitely deserves it after that. He deserved the MVP today and are very lucky to have a young player with his talent on this team."

Not only did Gonzalez' presence on set pieces completely turn the match around in the Galaxy's favor, but the adjustments he and the back line made in handling Houston's forwards kept the Dynamo from getting a second goal in that first fifteen minutes after halftime.

"I think when you’re looking at players like [Calen] Carr and [Will] Bruin," said Gonzalez, "they just want to make runs behind you. Today we just tried to keep them in front of us and drop early because we knew they were going to be sending balls to out wide and we tried to step into those places before they did and on the goal they scored we ended up getting caught high. We ended up not doing so well on that play and I think that we realized that, we corrected it and it didn’t really happen again. So you just got to keep those guys in front of you, make sure if they are getting the ball in the middle, just put pressure on them. I thought everyone did great."

It was Gonzalez who didn't step up in time on the offside trap, keeping Carr onside for that goal just before halftime. When asked to reflect on the season, Gonzalez didn't mention his injury. He said that he was coming in once a week during the early struggling days, and that everyone's heads were down.

"I think Bruce’s experience just took over and said ‘we’re going to be fine’. We ended up being just that. In the very middle of the season everyone started turning around and everything turned out the way Bruce said."

The players continually mention how Bruce pulls them all together, or Donovan, or Beckham. Someday Omar Gonzalez is going to be one of those players everyone rallies around. Hopefully he does it as a member of the Galaxy, because LA fans would love to be around when it happens.


Robbie Keane has biggest impact in MLS Cup

The Match Impact Ratings are in for MLS Cup 2012, and unsurprisingly Robbie Keane led the LA Galaxy with an MIR of 68.8. Keane, who has topped the MIR rankings repeatedly this season for the Galaxy was one for three on goal with two of those on target. He suffered two more fouls than he committed, and was called for offside once.

Keane of course toped MLS's player impact index as well, staving off Chris Wondolowski in the Castrol Index. Over the season Wondolowski scored goals at a remarkable clip, but Keane outplayed Wondo in just about every category. During the year Keane was eighth in MLS in on target shots per 90 averaging 0.86. Keane also performed better in duels won and in good passes.

One match is two small for percentages, but two out of three shots on target isn't bad. There was also the two disallowed goals, both which hit the back of the net and one which should have been allowed as Omar Gonzalez was called for a phantom foul. Robbie Keane has shown an incredible selection process, only pulling the trigger when he's certain he can hit the target.

"I wasn't really too frustrated," said Keane. "The first one was offside. You half know as a player and then I saw the replay. The second one was not a foul from Omar. We'd be talking about it if we lost the game, but we didn't so it doesn't matter."

Keane hit 19 of his 25 passes yesterday, and was 50% successful on his dribbles. With one more foul suffered than offside/fouls committed, Keane kept the ball for the Galaxy up in the offensive third. Of course, suffering the foul that sets up the match clinching penalty kick goal is what pushes him past Man of the Match Omar Gonzalez.

Omar Gonzalez also finished high in MIR yesterday, second on the team with 52.75. Gonzalez was one for two on shots and was even on his fouls caused and suffered. That a defender was that high on MIR shows you just how much Gonzalez meant to the Galaxy yesterday. Once he decided to get on the end of some of the free kicks that were coming in, the entire match changed for the Galaxy.

Moving down the list you've got Juninho at 46.5 and Donovan at 37.6. Donovan caused a foul and was called for offside twice without suffering an infraction, he also got a yellow card for time wasting. That (and his howler) keep Donovan from showing up higher. Juninho's assist turned the entire match around, but he was also in the negative on fouls.

Chippen was derided for playing poorly yesterday, but he managed to clock in at 35 on MIR. It's was David Beckham and Mike Magee (9.4 and 0 respectively) that failed to impress our spreadsheets.

The Castrol Index rightly rewarded Keane for all the other things he does for the offense beside simply scoring. That impact he has also has shown up in our MIR throughout the year and it was great of Castrol to send over some information that corroborated what I suspected all along.

Scoring at the rate that he did won Wondolowski MLS MVP, but Robbie Keane did more for the offense as a whole throughout the year. As was said on the broadcast yesterday, few would argue if you wanted to say Keane was the best player in the second half of the MLS season. Given that the Galaxy had the best record in the second half of the MLS season and ultimately their run to MLS Cup, it can be argued that the Galaxy's awful start made folk forget just how talented this team is.

In their note to me trying to quantify why Keane finished ahead of Wondo, Castrol told me that Wondo would have needed two or three more goals to pass Keane. That's how solid Keane was in the other offensive categories, Wondolowski would have had to shatter the MLS regular season goal record to beat him.

MIR is given to LAG Confidential by Patrick Johnston, and the Castrol Index is the property of MLS Soccer.


Four Star Daily: MLS Cup 2012 Clippings Round-Up

The Galaxy added another star and so have we, Four Star Daily wrap up of what was written about MLS Cup yesterday.


LA Galaxy kept cool heads to come back in MLS Cup

When the LA Galaxy let in a goal just before halftime, it let out a bit of the air in the stadium. Landon Donovan was still thinking about his sitter, and certainly so were many of the fans. Still, not many were expecting a clean sheet; especially not Bruce Arena who said after the match that they were never phased.

"Our guys are used to this stuff. You should have seen us at halftime, we were fine. We were just catching our breath, getting a little bit reorganized and understanding that the first 15 minutes of that second half, we needed to keep ourselves in the game."

It has to be said that LA benefited from injuries during their run up to MLS Cup. San Jose losing Berdardez in the second leg, Eddie Johnson not being available for the first leg, and yesterday it was Houston losing Calen Carr. He scored the opening goal and then he had two attempts in that first fifteen minutes period Bruce Arena was talking about.

So yes, the Galaxy kept themselves in the game for the first fifteen minutes of the second half, but at the end of those fifteen minutes Houston lost a great player.

"I told them at halftime," said Arena, "we get the first goal, we win the game, there were more goals to come. The guys kept their composure, the experience certainly helped and they did what they had to do."

A minute later, the Galaxy pepper Houston with a series of aerial attacks until finally Omar Gonzalez put one past Tally Hall. The Galaxy got that first goal, and on the ESPN broadcast Taylor Twellman said the next five minutes were important for the Dynamo. The old when it rains it pours theory. Sure enough, Mike Magee's shot earned the Galaxy a penalty five minutes later.

"I do want to mention, I thought Houston played real well today. They deserve a lot of credit and I’m sure they feel it was some tough calls, but a penalty is a penalty and they were both penalties. Our guys responded well, I give Houston a lot of credit but certainly my hat’s off to our team."

Houston did play well, and with the sun coming out and both teams playing at a higher tempo it was certainly an easier match to watch (especially for neutrals) than last year. That high tempo certainly took it's toll on the players. Beckham said after the match that when he got his sub at the end he was grateful because he was so tired. When that stoppage time penalty was given, Beckham went over to Donovan and told him to take it, but Donovan said Beckham should take it cause he was too tired. They eventually agreed Keane should take it.

All credit to the Galaxy for keeping their heads and pushing hard in the second half to get that victory.


LA Galaxy show strength of will not to yield

It was the LA Galaxy's second MLS Cup in a row, but it didn't happen like their first one. The season was a struggle, and it took a great turnaround in team chemistry for things to get pulled back together. Then with Beckham announcing he's moving on after the season, it certainly was nothing like last year.

Perhaps the struggle makes it sweater. Last year winning MLS Cup was a fulfillment of expectations. This year, winning MLS Cup was a triumph over adversity. Mild adversity of the sports verity, but adversity nonetheless. I quoted Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Ulysses several times today (spoilers: it's also used in Skyfall), but I'm going to quote it again so I can share why I think it's so meaningful to this season.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

This crew is about to set sail, another journey for a crew that has made many journey's together. And they don't know if they're going to make it, for the seas are always rough and they aren't the young men they once were. Still, even though the bodies aren't as strong, though they can no longer just flex muscle and make things the way they wish they were, they still have heroic hearts.

Though time has made their bodies weak they're still willing to strive and not to yield. A year older, and with players in multiple tournaments, the Galaxy bodies were certainly made weak by time and fate. David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, all of them have spoken about the physical pain they've had to play through.

Yet somehow they found the strength of will to carry on. In a way that makes this championship all the sweeter.

"It was our goal at the start of the season," David Beckham said, "I spoke about it before, we always want to win a championship at the end of the year. Last year, we were amazing and we did it. This year, we didn't start very well, but we became good when it was the important time. Today is a special day for us to win another championship in front of our fans at home. In front of our friends, family ... it was really special. Today's a good day."

At the press conference Landon Donovan talked about a period where he was away from three games, and he got texts saying the team's attitude had changed. That Beckham had shaken the hangover from last year's Cup win off the team and the young players had rallied around him. Donovan came back and rallied the club in Salt Lake. Keane came back and went on a scoring tear that made the Galaxy the best team in the second half of the MLS season.

"For me personally, this felt more satisfying," said Landon Donovan. "Last year there was a heavy expectation I think, with the uncertainty about David’s future and we hadn’t won a championship, from the beginning MLS Cup was in LA so there was a lot pressure to get there. This year we could enjoy it a little bit more I think. To finish where we were, in fourth place, and then kind of unexpectedly move through the playoffs that was way a little more satisfying I think."

The pressure was off this year. The questions about Beckham's future didn't loom over the team, there was no cloud of journalists waiting to call the Beckham experiment a failure if he didn't finish with a championship. The storm passed and the crew decided that they wanted to set sail again.

No one knew where they would land. Certainly after finishing fourth expectations were low. Yet they were willing to strive, to seek, to find, and with their backs up against it they chose not to yield.


LA Galaxy win MLS Cup with everyone chipping in

After defeating the Houston Dynamo tonight 3-1, the LA Galaxy have won four MLS Cups pulling them level with DC United; their second Cup win in a row. For captain Landon Donovan, he pulls level with Jeff Agoos and Brian Mullan who each won five MLS Cups.

The LA Galaxy won nine of their last fourteen games on the run up to MLS Cup, getting hot at just the right time. This was the third time an MLS team played the final in their home stadium, and the second time the home team won. With MLS now awarding the MLS Cup final to the team with the best record, there will be many more of these games with absolutely electric atmosphere. It was also the Galaxy's eighth appearance in MLS Cup.

Statistically, MLS Cup 2012 in some ways was a bit sloppy. Houston's pass success rate was less than 50% as expected, but the Galaxy were even lower getting tackled nine times out of thirteen. Not only did Houston outpass the Galaxy, but they outshot LA as well.

Brad Davis created four chances, leading Houston, but it was Adam Moffat's pass that got Houston their goal. Landon Donovan created two chances for the Galaxy, but it was Juninho who chipped in the cross that Omar Gonzalez headed home. Both teams had role players step up and make huge contributions. Juninho did stay true to his form, letting one rip from well outside the box that he hooked a bit too much.

It's been a season where things didn't go according to script for the Galaxy, and they needed players like Juninho and Sean Franklin and Mike Magee to step up huge and fill in. That Omar Gonzalez finally got over his (apparent) fear of challenging for balls in the box and headed one home was just the perfect way for the team to get back in it.

At the post match press conference, Beckham mentioned that just before Gonzalez' goal Beckham had taken a free kick that Gonzalez could have gotten on but Gonzalez was timid and didn't get to the ball in time. Beckham went over and gave him some encouragement, told him to just go for it. Beckham got the ball to Franklin restarting after an unsuccessful corner that resulted from Gonzalez' first shot, but this time Gonzalez went up hard and finished.

It was Mike Magee who took the shot that resulted in the handball five minutes later. There was a melee in the box and Omar Gonzalez and Tommy Meyer both got heads on the ball that eventually fell to Magee. The MLS replay doesn't show the hand ball, which came just minutes after another controversial play where Robbie Keane finished an Omar Gonzalez header.

It was Robbie Keane's dribbling that got the Galaxy the third goal; dribbling around Tally Hall and forcing Hall to grab him. It was a match that encapsulated everything the Galaxy had to go through this year, everything that went right and the things that occasionally went wrong.

It was a lot of fun.




LA Galaxy win their fourth MLS title with 3-1 win

Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan all scored goals as LA repeated as MLS Champions.

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