Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
CARSON, Calif. — In the end, the LA Galaxy gave David Beckham the fairytale finish he was hoping for.
The Galaxy repeated as MLS Champions on Saturday afternoon, defeating the Houston Dynamo, 3-1, at the Home Depot Center in a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup final. The Galaxy fell behind just before halftime courtesy of a strike from Calen Carr, but they responded with three goals in the second half to win their league record-tying fourth MLS Cup title in Beckham’s final MLS game.
Man of the Match Omar Gonzalez started the comeback by scoring off a header to pull LA level, and Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane both converted penalty kicks to give the Galaxy a second straight championship.
“We didn’t start very well but we came good when it was the important time,” said Beckham. “Today is a special day for us to win another championship in front of home fans in our home in front of our friends our family. It’s very special.”
Houston took the lead on the stroke of halftime, as Carr punished the Galaxy back line with his speed on a counter attack before beating goalkeeper Josh Saunders with a strong finish in a back-and-forth first half.
While Carr’s goal put the Dynamo in a dream scenario at the intermission, the visitors came out flat in the second half. Robbie Keane scored from close range off a free kick from Beckham minutes into the second half, but it was whistled back for offside.
It was still a sign of things to come.
“There was actually more silence than normal during this halftime,” said Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee. “It seemed a bit weird, but when we got called to go play you saw it in everyone’s eyes. Everyone was ready.”
Houston’s attack also suffered a big blow near the hour-mark as Carr had to be removed because of injury, and that allowed the Galaxy’s back line a chance to settle down.
Then the equalizer arrived.
Following a corner kick from Beckham that was cleared out, Juninho whipped in a cross from the right flank in the 60th minute. Gonzalez rose up to meet the Brazilian’s diagonal ball and he nodded it over a full-stretched Tally Hall.
“(Head coach Bruce Arena) said the next goal is going to win the game,” said Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant. “We get a goal and it turns things around and puts them on their heels a little bit and that’s how we looked at it.
“We knew we had the firepower, we knew we had to keep them from getting chances and they had a couple half-chances here and there, but for the most part we kept them in front of us and did a good job of limiting their space in behind other than the goal. We got that goal and the momentum carried us.”
With the crowd of 30,510 pushing them on, the Galaxy searched for a winner and they did not have to wait long to find it. A penalty kick was whistled against Ricardo Clark in the 65th minute for a hand ball in the 18-yard box, and Landon Donovan converted the ensuing shot by going low and to his right while Hall guessed the wrong way.
“I don’t know if I want to cry or throw up, one of the two,” said Dynamo head coach Dom Kinnear. “We played well. Last year you can hold your hand up and say we didn’t really get going. We played well today and we gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”
The Dynamo threw numbers forward while looking for an equalizer, but they were never the same without Carr’s speed. That allowed the Galaxy to counter attack with great success, and they put the game away in stoppage time.
Hall was called for a foul in the penalty area after clipping Keane on a breakaway, and Keane converted the ensuing spot kick to assure the Galaxy would repeat as champions.
“It’s surreal, to be honest,” said Donovan, who stunningly missed a chance from point-blank range in the 13th minute. “In any sport, to repeat is really hard to do. The playoff run was great but what got us here was the turnaround in July and we have to give ourselves a lot of credit for how we did when we were down.
“That’s the sign of a champion and we showed that again today.”