CARSON, Calif. – Give the LA Galaxy five minutes, and they’ll make memories to last an entire offseason.
Fueled by two lightning-quick goals early in the second half that wiped out a gritty first half from the Houston Dynamo, the Galaxy joined Major League Soccer royalty on Saturday by winning their second consecutive MLS Cup in front of a sold-out crowd at the Home Depot Center.
Defender Omar Gonzalez scored off a header in the 61st minute and captain Landon Donovan converted a penalty kick moments later in the 3-1 win, which thrust the Galaxy into rare company in league history. They joined D.C. United as the only clubs in MLS to win four league championships, and they are the third team in league history to win back-to-back titles.
Donovan – who scored the game-winner when the Galaxy topped the Dynamo in Carson last year - also joined a select fraternity with the win, finding company with longtime league stalwarts Jeff Agoos and Brian Mullan as the only players to win five MLS Cup titles in their careers.
Robbie Keane added an insurance goal from the penalty spot in stoppage time for this league-leading sixth goal of the postseason.
The Dynamo, meanwhile, settled for the runners-up podium yet again despite controlling large portions of the first half and getting a goal from striker Calen Carr in the 44th minute that staked them to a 1-0 halftime lead.
But two lapses – one that let game MVP Gonzalez rise above the fray for his second career postseason goal and a handball by midfielder Ricardo Clark that set the stage for Donovan’s winner – were too much to overcome. The Galaxy settled in after Donovan’s goal and punctuated the win when Keane was taken down on a breakaway by Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall in stoppage time.
Galaxy midfielder David Beckham – who went out a two-time Cup winner during a five-year MLS career - helped set up the Gonzalez goal and keyed what should have been a breakaway goal for Donovan in the first half. He came off the field to a roar of applause after Keane’s goal and with that waved goodbye to MLS, a far more celebratory exit than when he and the Galaxy floundered for two seasons after his arrival in 2007.
Beckham also had a hand setting up the Gonzalez goal, but much of the dirty work was done by the former Defender of the Year himself. The 6-foot-5 center back towered over Dynamo defender Kofi Sarkodie on a looping cross from midfielder Juninho and thumped a header to the far post past Hall to level the score at 1-1.
That goal sent the 30,515 fans in attendance into elation, but Donovan’s winner was sheer euphoria. Clark was whistled for a hand ball when Magee attempted a bicycle kick in the box in the 65th minute, and Donovan stepped to the spot for what’s become a ritual in Galaxy soccer circles for years.
He promptly placed his shot past Hall for his MLS-record 22nd career postseason goal, and there was no looking back. The Dynamo never really found another opening as the second half wore on, failing to test Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders as they had in the first 45. And Donovan – who has yet to state publicly if he’ll return to the league next season – won his third crown in a Galaxy uniform after two with the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Dynamo controlled much of the action in the early going and forced Saunders into a string of saves, but the best chance of the first 30 minutes went to Donovan after a picture-perfect Galaxy counter attack.
Beckham drifted a ball into space on the left side to a hard-charging Robbie Keane, and the Irish striker surged into space and to the edge of the Dynamo penalty box. Keane found Donovan streaking behind Houston defender Bobby Boswell and left the Galaxy captain with an open look from 10 yards out, but Donovan’s right-footed shot skipped harmlessly wide of the post.
The Galaxy never seriously threatened again before the break, as chances by Magee in the 19th minute and Juninho in the 24th went wide of the mark.
Houston countered with a solid look in the 27th minute from Sarkodie, who skirted Magee in the right corner and put a shot on net that Saunders had to parry over the crossbar.
Then came an opportunistic surge forward from Carr for this second career postseason goal and one that left the HDC crowd in a state of shock. Midfielder Adam Moffat drifted a cross over the Galaxy back line and Carr beat defender Tommy Meyer to the ball, held him at bay and then poked a shot past Saunders to the near post for the goal.
Carr, however, buckled early in the second half when he collided knee-to-knee with Gonzalez and had to be subbed out for Macoumba Kandji.
It was, sadly, injury to insult for the Dynamo on what turned out to be day of destiny for the Galaxy, who strolled to the winners’ podium as the sun momentarily broke through the clouds in Southern California. It was the last run with Beckham, Donovan and Keane during an era when the Galaxy broke the bank to place their mark on league history, but was no denying Saturday the moment in history was theirs to savor.
LA Galaxy (16-12-6, 4-2-0) vs. Houston Dynamo (14-9-11, 3-2-1)
2012 MLS Cup Final
December 1, 2012 – The Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
Attendance: 30,510 (sellout)
HOU: Calen Carr 1 (Adam Moffat) 44
LA: Omar Gonzalez 1 (Juninho 2, Sean Franklin 4) 60
LA: Landon Donovan 2 (penalty kick) 65
LA: Robbie Keane 6 (penalty kick) 94+
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Kofi Sarkodie (Brian Ching 77), Jermaine Taylor, Bobby Boswell, Corey Ashe; Boniek Garcia, Adam Moffat (Giles Barnes 71), Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis; Will Bruin, Calen Carr (Macoumba Kandji 59)
Substitutes not used: Tyler Deric, Andre Hainault, Cam Weaver, Luiz Camargo
LA Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Tommy Meyer, Todd Dunivant; Christian Wilhelmsson (Edson Buddle 74), Juninho (Michael Stephens 76), David Beckham (Marcelo Sarvas 90), Mike Magee; Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane
Substitutes not used: Brian Perk, A.J. DeLaGarza, Bryan Gaul, Pat Noonan
HOU: Bobby Boswell (caution) 64
LA: Landon Donovan (caution) 92
LA: Tally Hall (caution) 93
Referee: Silviu Petrescu
Referee's Assistants: Daniel Belleau, Darren Clark
4th Official: Hilario Grajeda