Designated for success

There were a great deal of expectations and a ton of pressure on LA Galaxy going into the 2011 Major League Soccer season, but on Sunday, they completed their dream season.

Everything was set up for LA heading into this season. This was the year that MLS Cup was to be played at the Home Depot Center, home of the Galaxy. It was also the last year of David Beckham’s contract and maybe the last chance for fans to see Beckham in MLS.

Midway through the season the pressure grew larger, as the Galaxy decided to add a major piece to the puzzle by adding their third Designated Player in Irish international captain Robbie Keane to accompany their other DPs, Beckham and Landon Donovan.

With a wealth of talent, they went on to win the MLS Supporters Shield as the team with the best regular season record. They also finished first in their CONCACAF Champions League group to advance to the quarterfinals. With those two feats in hand, the only thing left to claim was the MLS Cup.

The Galaxy were huge favorites going into the match, and rightfully so. Don’t get me wrong, this Houston Dynamo team had earned the right to be in the final, but they had nowhere near the talent that LA had in their lineup.  All signs pointed to LA winning the cup. History, however, was not on the side of the Californian superstars. No team had ever won the MLS Cup with a Designated Player, and LA had not only one, but three!

With that being said, when you have three expensive players on your roster, there will inevitably be some challenges filling out the rest of your roster with good MLS players. Sometimes you have to sacrifice talent, and that lack of overall depth could have cost the Galaxy.

LA lost forward Chad Barrett in a training incident the week before the MLS Cup final, so head coach Bruce Arena made the decision to play Adam Cristman up front in Barrett’s absence. Cristman had three wonderful chances in front of goal, but sometimes you get what you pay for. The chances kept falling to Cristman and he never looked close to putting any one in the back of the net.

To be fair to Cristman, he was not the player who the Galaxy were looking towards to win them the cup. Luckily for them, the players that were paid to bring the MLS Cup home to Los Angeles sprung to action in the 72nd minute.

A ball was floated into the Houston half of the field and Beckham rose to flick the ball forward to a waiting Keane. The Irishman then dribbled the ball past a Houston defender then played a magical ball into the path of Landon Donovan, who was making a diagonal run into the penalty box. Donovan took a touch then chipped the ball over Houston goalkeeper Taylor Hall for the winning goal.

The final whistle blew and Beckham shared a big embrace with Donovan. What a statement for him as he hoisted the trophy in front of a sold-out Home Depot Center and a worldwide viewing audience. This is what dreams are made of.

You don’t always get what you deserve in the game of soccer, but this time Major League Soccer’s most marketable team with the best players and best coach in 2011 took care of business. No longer is there a need to point to the failure of MLS stars in leading their team to success. Designated Players aren’t just brought in for show; they’re brought in to make teams better, to make the league better, and to win championships.

Mission accomplished, and well deserved too.