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.