By JOSE M. ROMERO
CARSON, Calif. – Make it three MLS championships for 60-year-old Bruce Arena, and no coach has more since the inception of the league in 1996.
Just another feather in the cap for the 2011 MLS Coach of the Year, who appeared to be letting it all soak in as he sat down to speak with reporters after his Los Angeles Galaxy defeated the Houston Dynamo 1-0 Sunday night for the MLS Cup.
"I had beer and champagne poured all over me," Arena said with a smile, explaining the delay in his arrival to the dais.
Arena pulled the right string from the sideline Sunday night, subbing in forward Chris Birchall for Adam Cristman in the 57th minute and more importantly, moving Landon Donovan up from his attacking midfield position to forward.
Donovan was in position to take forward partner Robbie Keane's through-ball and kick what would be the game-winning goal in the 72nd minute.
"Always part of the thinking. It almost went like we thought it what happen," Arena said. "In and around the 60-minute mark, (we thought) that we'd make that switch bringing somebody up and moving Landon up top."
Just another piece of good strategy from Arena, who received praise from his Houston counterpart, Dom Kinnear, for consistency throughout the season as L.A. won the Supporters Shield.
"I've got a ton of respect for Bruce and what he's done in that locker room to keep that team focused and continuing to win games the entire year while MLS is full of ups and downs," Kinnear said. "I don't think they ever had a down period as far as losing goes. That's a very detemermined group. It starts with Bruce and then it goes down to Landon and David Beckham and Robbie Keane."
Both Beckham and Donovan took a moment to credit their coach, Beckham saying Arena "got us prepared," and Donovan, long an associate of Arena's in MLS and with the U.S. national team, offering further praise.
"Bruce is so good at analyzing the game and figuring out what we need," Donovan said, his remark prompting Arena to stretch his arms over the shoulders of two of his biggest star players, like a father with his sons.
"There's times through it all where you get tired, and mentally you wear down, but this guy keeps us going. Bruce is on us constantly but he keeps us going," Donovan added.
Motivator, leader and architect of a supporting cast of veterans and draft choices (as general manager) that was just as instrumental to the Galaxy's success this season as the team's stars, Arena finally got the championship that had eluded him since coming to L.A. in 2008. He hadn't won one since 1996 and 1997 at D.C. United.
The key was maintaining a core of players and not losing many pieces to other teams. The Galaxy's Gregg Berhalter also noted a change in the culture of the team with the arrival of Arena to one with a foundation built on defense.
"It's not easy. It's one of the great challenges in the league. You get to a certain plateau with teams and then you have to kind them knock them down a little bit to adhere to the various rules and regulations, and we were able to keep most of the guys here," Arena said. "We lost Edson Buddle, we lost a couple of others but it's not easy and that's also part of the challenge."
Arena acknowledged that the shelf-life of a consistently successful team is diminishing.
"Right now the way we do things, you probably have a little bit of a short window to be good and win some things," he said, "and then you have to start all over again."