By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. – It was a celebration three years in the making.
The Galaxy may have been crowned MLS Cup Champions with a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Sunday night, but it is the journey that they took to get to the summit that was truly special.
Just three years removed from finishing last in the Western Conference, the Galaxy were completely retooled under the leadership of head coach Bruce Arena. Although there were many bumps along the road, Arena could not help but bask in his accomplishment of leading the Galaxy to their third MLS Cup championship.
"We maybe jump-started our team a little bit quick to be in that position [in '09], and maybe we wouldn't have appreciated the value in winning a championship and how important it is and how hard it is," said Arena after the match. "We worked our asses off to get here, and it makes it even sweeter, because nothing was given to us. We worked our asses off to try and build this team into a champion. We got it done and it's unbelievably rewarding."
Throughout the process, the Galaxy continued to add vital role players to bring the Galaxy closer to the goal. Experienced MLS players like Mike Magee or international projects like Juninho were added to assist the club's stars like David Beckham. However, while the strategy helped the club find success in the regular season, the Galaxy stumbled in the postseason.
In 2009, the Galaxy fell just short in penalties in the MLS Cup Final to Real Salt Lake and then one year later were bested on their own home field in the Western Conference Final by FC Dallas. Although the team had their struggles in the past, 2011 was different. This time, the overconfidence or lapses in concentration that felled the team in the past appeared to be conquered.
Sunday's final was the perfect example as the Galaxy maintained their composure despite wasting early chances and continued to barrage the Dynamo defense. This paid off in the 72nd minute when Landon Donovan scored leaving it to the Galaxy defense to seal the deal. The defense was up to the task, preventing Houston's offense from threatening goal and ultimately giving the Galaxy the title.
"We definitely learned from our mistakes and I think those losses made this year all that much better," said Magee. "Sometimes you take years for granted, you take moments for granted, like we did last year. It makes this moment all the more sweeter."
One of the players that has endured the sweet and the bitter moments is Galaxy defender Sean Franklin. The active right back was one of the lone bright spots during the Galaxy's horrid 2008 and has become one of the cornerstones in the Galaxy's defense. On Sunday night, he shined during Los Angeles' victory.
Throughout the match, Franklin was able to get forward and consistently challenge a Houston defense that had little answer for his darting runs.
"This team has changed since 08, both the players and the mentality," said Franklin. "It's been a roller coaster, but an enjoyable one. Just being with these guys day in and day out is something special."
With the journey completed and the MLS Cup in their possession, the message on the team white board was clear: this team has accomplished a great deal this season. In the top corner of the board, were the Galaxy's written objectives: defeat local rival Chivas USA? Check. Qualify for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League? Check. Win MLS Cup? Check.
Having accomplished all that they set out to do in 2011, the Galaxy now face an uncertain future. Questions are abound about the whether key players like Juninho, Franklin and most notably Beckham will be able to return. But while the roster may not be the same in 2012, the Galaxy understand that this team enjoyed the ride of a lifetime.
"We just kept building and never took our foot off the gas. It’s been three years of turning this team around," Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said. "We learned each year and this year was a performance like I’ve never been a part of. This team was incredible from Day One. It’s a team from the ages. I don’t know how you top it. We’ve done everything we set out to do and then some."