By FRANCO PANIZO
CARSON, Calif. — Minutes before the Los Angeles Galaxy blasted music and opened bottles of beer in their locker room at the Home Depot Center, the Houston Dynamo sat in theirs with glum faces and blank stares. The silence that filled the air spoke volumes.
The difference in the atmospheres was understandable, as Houston had just come off of a 1-0 loss to Los Angeles in the MLS Cup final thanks in part to a second-half goal from Landon Donovan.
What both teams shared following Sunday night's game was a sense of pride in what they had accomplished. No, the Dynamo didn't walk away from the soggy field with winners' medals and an MLS Cup, yet that still wasn't enough to erase all of the Eastern Conference Champions' accomplishments this season.
"No one thought we were going to make it this far. No one thought we were going to make it into the postseason," said a solemn Geoff Cameron, his black eye indicating just how physical the match really was. "We had a great past three or four months. We turned the season around and I thought we played some really good ball, especially towards the end.
"We fell short obviously and maybe this will fuel the fire for next season and get back into it. It's just one of this things that you've got to take on the chin."
Cameron was one of the Dynamo's better performers in a game that Los Angeles controlled. He, Bobby Boswell and goalkeeper Tally Hall were the main reasons why the visitors kept Los Angeles' high-octane offense off the scoreboard in the first half.
While that was a positive, it was also a negative as it demonstrated Houston's inability to create on offense without its injured star, Brad Davis. Dom Kinnear's men struggled to get into a rhythm against Los Angeles, and they paid for it in the 72nd minute when David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Donovan (the Galaxy's three Designated Players) combined for the game's only goal.
Beckham headed down a backwards pass to Keane, who dribbled away from Boswell before waiting for Donovan to make a run. Once Donovan created space for himself away from Cameron, Keane released the ball and Donovan was through on goal, finishing with a well-placed effort that got past Hall and rolled slowly into the net.
Houston searched for an equalizer after that, but its inability to hold onto the ball was its demise.
"We had too little possession," said Carlo Costly. "They had the ball more, were moving it from one side to the other and played to counterattack, so one mistake by us in the defense and they scored."
The loss ended Houston's hopes of a fairytale ending to a season in which it was constantly overlooked.
Several pundits didn't think Houston would make the playoffs after putting together a 5-8-7 record through June. They were proven wrong.
Others believed the team to be inferior to the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference semifinals despite the Dynamo being a higher seed, while more thought Sporting Kansas City would be victorious over The Men in Orange in the Eastern Conference Championship.. They were also wrong.
"We've come up against a lot coming (into tonight), but we've been up against a lot the whole second half of the season and the playoffs," said Calen Carr. "I don't think (the environment/atmosphere) was something that decided the game, but all in all I was just proud of the team's effort and just proud to be apart of the team.
"We're frustrated obviously. We came here to win, and that's what the expectations should be and is for our group. But still I think we have to be proud of what we were able to accomplish."
The Dynamo may not have accomplished their ultimate goal on Sunday, but they did make it difficult as visitors against the most expensive team in MLS history. That might not be enough to take comfort in, at least not immediately, but it can serve as the first building block for a 2012 season in which it likely won't be overlooked.
"We got better as the season went on," said Costly. "It stands for something that we're here in the final. It was excellent. The team worked hard thinking of this final. We couldn't pull it out, but it's time to rest and think to next season."