After years of frustration and underachievement, David Beckham gets to go out with a bang ... again. The LA Galaxy are MLS Cup champions for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in their history, cementing their present-era side's place as one of the best teams in MLS history. Finally, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the multiple Designated Player experiment can be considered a success in Los Angeles.
The Galaxy did not get off to a brilliant start on Saturday night, as the Houston Dynamo asserted themselves early. LA settled in after a while, but Houston struck first against the run of play, putting the Galaxy in a tough situation heading into the second half. An injury to goal-scorer Calen Carr changed the game, and correlated with Houston's collapse. They were undone in the area of the game everyone would least expect them to be overmatched in -- set pieces -- as the Galaxy fought for a 3-1 comeback victory.
Landon Donovan had the first great chance of the night after just 13 minutes, and in that moment it felt like it might not be LA's night. Beckham set up the move with a brilliant long ball past the Dynamo defense to Robbie Keane, who met it quickly and laid a great pass to the back post, where Donovan was waiting. He had the goal at his mercy, but missed wide.
In a bit of a sign of things to come, Mike Magee had a decent opportunity on a set piece in the 19th minute, but was unable to get everything on his headed attempt off a Beckham free kick. He looked to be in a good position to finish at the far post, but was put off enough by Adam Moffat that he was unable to put any power on his shot.
While LA was on top for much of the first half, the best two chances in the latter part of the half were created by the Dynamo. Kofi Sarkodie had an excellent chance in the 25th minute, provided by Boniek Garcia with a through ball down the right flank, but Josh Saunders was able to make a save.
Saunders wasn't able to stop a very similar attempt later in the half, this time by way of Carr. Moffat created the chance with a chipped ball into the penalty area, and Carr was able to hold off Tommy Meyer before firing into the roof of the net at the near post, giving the Dynamo a shock 1-0 halftime lead.
A goal behind, Bruce Arena and the Galaxy were forced to adjust their strategy to start the second half, and they came out guns blazing. Keane had a goal disallowed in the 48th minute, on a free kick where he was narrowly offside. He almost created another chance on a counter set up by Beckham with a long ball, but Hall was able to stay in front of him to push the ball out for a corner.
Carr continued to look active and had a decent half-chance in the 55th minute, but went down with an injury shortly afterwards. He looked to pick up a knee injury during a collision and was removed for Macoumba Kandji in the 58th minute, right when LA had a corner. Kandji appeared to be confused about his role while defending set pieces, and perhaps not coincidentally, bad set piece defending would quickly be Houston's downfall.
Los Angeles produced a series of corner opportunities as Houston failed to clear away, and finally turned one into a goal. After two minutes of assaulting the Dynamo goal, Juninho was able to find Omar Gonzalez in the penalty area with a cross following one of those corners. Gonzalez got up above two players in orange shirts and directed a header to the far post, equalizing for the Galaxy.
At that point, the Dynamo utterly crumbled. Gonzalez set up a go-ahead goal in the 63rd minute, but it was disallowed. Referee Silviu Petrescu called him for grabbing onto his marker when going up for a header that put Keane in a great position to score, but there was very little to the foul.
It ultimately meant nothing, as LA created their winner three minutes later on a similar play. On a set piece, Gonzalez headed towards the center of the box, where Magee tried an overhead kick. Ricardo Clark got in front of goal to block, but handled the ball and a penalty was given. Donovan stepped up and buried the spot kick, putting his side up for good after 66 minutes.
Houston pushed hard for an equalizer and had a number of respectable half-chances, but never truly tested Saunders as the Galaxy held on without too much of a problem. With the Dynamo pushing forward in desperation, Keane was able to get behind the defense in the 93rd minute and, while one-on-one with Hall, and drew him into a foul in the box. Keane converted the penalty for the insurance goal, ending the game in style.
In time, Donovan and Beckham will decide their future, but for now, they and their fans get to enjoy a second MLS Cup victory in as many seasons. Considering how poorly the Galaxy played in the spring and the fight that they had just to get into playoff spots, it's an incredible accomplishment.