Archive | December, 2012

Galaxy rebound from Slow Start to win 2012 MLS Cup

Posted on 02 December 2012 by iyeo

Chances are you could easily tell the Los Angeles Galaxy that started the 2012 season from the one that stood at the podium at the end of the MLS Cup Final on Saturday as it accepted the Philip Anschutz Trophy as MLS champions for a second consecutive season.

The LA Galaxy that started the season certainly did not look like the team that had steamrolled through the 2011 season en route to the MLS Cup title, as injuries, absences and an apparent hangover from the 2011 season played a role in the team stumbling to a 3-8-1 start, yet anyone who appeared set to write the Galaxy’s 2012 eulogy back in May would’ve underestimated the battle-tested resolve displayed by this group of players over countless years, and that resolve was more than evident the second half of the season, as LA was one of the best teams the last part of the season and in the end, was the last team standing after yet another grueling MLS campaign.

“I think we made it easy last year because we were exceptional the whole year. This year was different because we made it hard for ourselves,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said. “We didn’t start well. Good teams and good character in teams become good at the right time. I think we showed that this year.”

Coming off a 2011 season which in addition to its MLS Cup title, included advancement to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League tournament and an undefeated year at the Home Depot Center, expectations were high for the Galaxy, which had just reacquired striker Edson Buddle to pair up with Robbie Keane as well as reacquiring Juninho on another loan after the Brazilian midfielder had signed a three-year contract with his main club, Sao Paulo. The Galaxy started off its 2012 season with two important matches, starting off with a CONCACAF Champions League match against Toronto FC in front of 45,000 rowdy fans at the Rogers Centre. The Galaxy fell behind 2-0, but eventually fought back for a 2-2 draw. LA then opened up the 2012 MLS Season at home against Real Salt Lake in a rematch of the Western Conference final from the previous season. LA took the lead midway through the second half, but allowed RSL to fin the back net three times and LA lost 3-1, its first home loss since the 2010 Western Conference final. That loss turned out to be a sign of things to come for the next three months.

The opening week loss to RSL was quickly followed by a 2-1 CCL loss to Toronto FC in the return leg, eliminating them from the tournament. The Galaxy got its first win of the season against DC United four days later, but that certainly was not enough to ward off what would eventually be a sluggish start to the season, with the low point coming on the last week before MLS embarked on a two-week international break. First came its first loss to Chivas USA in five years on May 19, then perhaps the most glaring result, a 3-2 home loss to the San Jose Earthquakes on May 23rd in which it blew a two-goal lead. LA then lost to the Houston Dynamo 2-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium on May 26 and the Galaxy stood near the bottom of the Western Conference with a 3-8-1 record. LA was then eliminated from the US Open Cup by the Carolina Railhawks by the same score three days later.

“I was coming in maybe once a week when those hard times were happening and those days that I would come in, everyone’s heads would be down,” Galaxy Center Back Omar Gonzalez said.

The slow start could be attributed to a number of factors, such as injuries, as LA went without Center Back Gonzalez for the first four months of the season. Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders also missed some time as he went into the league’s substance abuse program. However, the long break in June that followed would provide an opportunity for the Galaxy to turn things around.

“When the season ended last year, we had an endless tour of obligations and we couldn’t put this 2011 season behind us. And I think, as I look back on, it finally came to a close when we went to the White House in May,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “I just said ‘let’s put’ – I want to watch my language here – ‘this past us.’ And not only that but start focusing on getting things right.”

The attitude adjustment was evident the very week MLS play resumed. It started on June 17 at home against the Portland Timbers, as LA welcomed back Saunders between the pipes and the result was a 1-0 win, its first shutout win of the season. The biggest result of that week however came on June 20, as the Galaxy traveled to Utah to face Real Salt Lake. The Galaxy fell behind by two goals, but came back with three unanswered goals to steal the three points from RSL. LA wrapped up that week with a 3-0 home win over the then third-place Vancouver Whitecaps on June 23.

“The guys responded well, but oddly enough in June we still had a horrible run, but you could see things were getting better,” Arena said. “There was an important game, I think a lot of guys mentioned it, when we won in Salt Lake, which was just a character test. You could see that we kind of got that back and then we literally battled every day.”

Slowly but surely, the pieces started to fall back in place for the Galaxy. Gonzalez returned to the lineup on Independence Day, but more importantly, striker Robbie Keane also rediscovered his scoring touch. After scoring three goals the first half of the season, Keane returned after representing Ireland in the European Championships and started finding the back net often, scoring 13 goals to finish with a total of 16 goals on the season. Also rounding into spectacular form was Juninho, who also struggled the first half of the season, but emerged in the second half, scoring seven goals, most of them on his trademark long-range volleys. LA also played with its 2011 championship backline of Gonzalez, Center Back AJ DeLaGarza, Left Back Todd Dunivant and Right Back Sean Franklin for the first time in 2012 on August 12 against Chivas USA and looked every bit the part, neutralizing Chivas’ attack and marching onto a 4-0 win that night, which began a run in which it would earn clean sheets in five of its next seven matches, which included two CONCACAF Champions’ League matches.

“I think Bruce’s experience just took over and said ‘we’re going to be fine,’ (and) we ended being just that,” Gonzalez said. “In the very middle of the season everyone started turning around and everything turned out the way Bruce said.”

LA got as high as second place during that run, but eventually had to settle for fourth place in the Western Conference. The Galaxy’s mettle was certainly tested during its playoff run, as it erased a one-goal deficit in the one-game playoff match against Vancouver, then fell behind by a goal on aggregate in the semifinal series against San Jose as the Earthquakes stole the first leg at the Home Depot Center with yet another late goal. Heading to San Jose midweek for the second leg at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Galaxy weren’t fazed, running out to a three-goal lead in the first half of the last leg against the recently crowned Supporters’ Shield winner Quakes and eventually coming out with a 3-2 aggregate win. Against Seattle in the conference final, LA raced out to a 3-0 home win in the first leg, but held on for dear life in a hostile atmosphere at CenturyLink Field, as Seattle closed to within a goal of the Galaxy before a Robbie Keane penalty restored some breathing room and LA came out with the win.

“Being successful doesn’t come easy. You have to work on it, (and) I think we provided that this year,” Beckham said. “All the way through the season, we had players out of games and young players and players that weren’t in the starting 11 come into the game and perform. This game and this championship is about the whole squad, not just the starting 11.”

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Gonzalez Shines once again for Galaxy on MLS’ Biggest Stage

Posted on 02 December 2012 by iyeo

If there was ever a time to show the value of Omar Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Galaxy, it was during the first four months of the 2012 season.

Gonzalez had missed the first four months of the season after suffering an ACL tear in his left knee while training with German side FC Nuremberg. The Galaxy surely felt his absence during that time, as they went 3-8-1, surrendered an alarmingly amount of goals during that time while going through a succession of Center Backs to fill his spot alongside fellow CB AJ DeLaGarza, so it’s no coincidence that his return has helped spark the Galaxy to a second half turnaround culminating in its second straight MLS Cup, with the 6-5 Defender playing a vital role in the LA backline against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday afternoon.

“Omar’s a good player, he’s a big defensive body, great in the air (and) we knew that coming in,” Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis said. He played a very good game and a player like that who’s on top of his game is tough to beat.”

Of course, Gonzalez’s worth to the Galaxy was evident as far back as his rookie season. Drafted out of the University of Maryland with the third overall pick in the 2009 MLS Superdraft, Gonzalez was expected to turn around the fortunes of a Galaxy backline that had given up over 60 goals in 2008. Gonzalez certainly did just that, as he and college teammate AJ DeLaGarza asserted themselves on the Galaxy backline that had 11 shutouts that season as the Galaxy reached the MLS Cup Final that season only to lose to Real Salt Lake on penalties.

Gonzalez had another stellar campaign in 2010 and parlayed that into his first call-up to the United States National Team in August in a friendly against Brazil and continued to impress in 2011, winning MLS Defender of the Year honors while helping the Galaxy to its first MLS Cup title since 2005. Gonzalez parlayed all that into a trial run with German side FC Nuremberg. However, the stint ended almost as quickly began, as on the first day of training, he suffered an ACL tear in his left knee. Ironically, the tear occurred during a collision with possible US teammate Timothy Chandler.

Gonzalez’s status for the 2012 season ranged anywhere from eight months to perhaps being lost for the entire season. The Galaxy certainly felt his absence during that time. In addition to its 3-8-1 start, the Galaxy were leaking in goals similar to its 2008 performance. Some of those glaring moments were letting in three unanswered goals in its season opener against Real Salt Lake and allowing the San Jose Earthquakes to come back from two-goal deficits in two meetings. The Galaxy struggled to find a suitable replacement for Gonzalez alongside DeLaGarza, starting players such as Tommy Meyer, Andrew Boyens, David Junior Lopes and Bryan Gaul on Gonzalez’s spot.

While the Galaxy were struggling early on, Gonzalez was working hard to get himself back in game shape, and made his return to the lineup much sooner than expected, on July 4 against Philadelphia. His return at first didn’t net immediate returns, but that quickly changed, as the Galaxy went through a run during August and September that saw them earn clean sheets in four straight matches. The Galaxy finished fourth in the Western Conference, but defied the odds to reach Saturday’s final, where Gonzalez turned the game into his personal showcase, using his 6-5 frame every way he could, from marking Dynamo forwards Will Bruin and Calen Carr to asserting himself in the air by cutting off long balls, corners or set pieces to scoring the equalizer via a header off a Juninho cross in the 61st minute.

“Everything was working for him tonight,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “He’s the type of player, you can move him around. They take advantage, they’re flipping balls up in the air. It happens, but I think he’s been probably the turning point in their season was when he got healthy because a lot of things were good going forward but maybe not as strong defensively. I think he’s definitely an important part of their back four.”

Gonzalez actually could have had a brace on Saturday, but a potential go-ahead goal off a David Beckham corner was disallowed after referee Silviu Petrescu ruled that Gonzalez had held down his marker. Still, his performance on Saturday made him the first defender to win the game’s Most Valuable Player award.

“It just turned out to be an amazing season for me, myself, the organization,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just truly outstanding players and friends on this team that I’ve made. It’s been a really special year.”

Gonzalez’s first United States call-up was against Brazil on August 10, 2010, though the general consensus surrounding both the Galaxy and Dynamo, especially after the Final was that more caps could be in store for Gonzalez in the near future.

“He’s a young player with a lot of talent,” David Beckham said. “I hope someday that he will play for the U.S. national team more regularly because he deserves it. He deserved the MVP today and are very lucky to have a young player with his talent on this team.”

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Galaxy send Beckham off with second straight MLS Cup

Posted on 01 December 2012 by iyeo

It wasn’t looking good for the Los Angeles Galaxy entering the second half of the 2012 MLS Cup final.

With all the hoopla surrounding the game as David Beckham’s farewell to MLS and the fact that the Galaxy were looking to repeat as champions, the Houston Dynamo threatened to crash the party in a huge way, as Calen Carr scored for Houston right before halftime.

However, considering the Galaxy had to rebound from a 3-8-1 start to the season, coming back from a one-goal deficit at halftime might feel a little easier, and that is what happened on a wet and cloudy Saturday afternoon at the Home Depot Center, as LA found the back net three times in the second half en route to its second straight MLS Cup title with a 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo.

“It’s a little surreal to be honest,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “I think 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 and that’s the sign of a champion and we showed that again today too.”

The win makes the Galaxy the first repeat MLS Cup champions, ironically since the Dynamo did it 2006 and 2007 and also concludes the remarkable run of the MLS career of David Beckham, who leaves the Galaxy a champion, just as he did with Manchester United in 2003 and Real Madrid in 2007.

“The feeling of making a final, the preparation, the feeling around the club, it never gets old,” Beckham said. “I’m 37, I’ve been able to play in quite few finals and championships games, and I still love it like I did when I won my first.”

The Dynamo were surely out to show that this year’s matchup would not be anywhere near like last year’s final in which Houston had barely been heard from. The Dynamo got a chance just a minute into the game, as Ricardo Clark had a ball inside the penalty area, gathered himself and quickly fired away, but was turned back by keeper Josh Saunders. The Galaxy did have one great chance to open the scoring themselves in the 13th minute when Beckham sent his trademark longball for an unmarked Robbie Keane. Keane sprinted for the Houston 18, then whipped a quick cross to a streaking Landon Donovan, but Donovan instead sent his shot wide right.

“A lot went through my mind, to be honest. When you’re in a moment like that, you feel like you let the team down because it’s not just what they do today, it’s what guys do over the whole season,” Donovan said. “You feel like you let everybody down. Candidly, it sat with me ‘til halftime and I took a few minutes at halftime, sort of collected myself and tried to stay present because we can’t change it.”

Houston continued to create chances, getting another chance in 25th minute when Brad Davis sent Kofi Sarkodie with a ball to the right, Sarkodie made his way into the 18, but his shot was parried away by Saunders. The Dynamo finally got that elusive first goal in the 44th minute when midfielder Adam Moffat sprung Calen Carr with a long ball, Carr then sprinted into the penalty area and sent his shot past keeper Josh Saunders into the back net to send the Dynamo fans into a frenzy and stake Houston to a 1-0 lead.

“We had great chances tonight before they scored their goal, so we weren’t sitting back,” Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “Sometimes teams have run of play, it’s not all a one-way street. We did good with [David] Beckham, they had their moments when they’re breaking, which they normally do. We just told our guys, when we have the ball that the communication is very smart because when it does turn over, they’re very dangerous.”

The Galaxy thought it had the equalizer in the 49th minute when Robbie Keane put one int the back net, but was called back as Keane was offside. LA continued to persist and eventually tied the game in the 61st minute. A Beckham corner was punched out by Hall, Beckham tracked it down, played it to right back Sean Franklin, who then found an open Juninho on the right side. Juninho then chipped a ball back into the penalty area towards Omar Gonzalez and the Center Back, who turned in a dominant performance in the backline, headed the ball past keeper Tally Hall into the far post netting for the equalizer. The Galaxy then got its chance for the lead in the 65th minute when a bicycle kick attempt by Mike Magee was handled by Ricardo Clark in the penalty area, the call was made and Landon Donovan made amends for his missed chance earlier in the match by doing what he does best; convert the penalty, as he went right while Hall guessed left and the Home Depot Center erupted.

“I’m not going to fool anyone and say I was calm about it, I was pretty nervous,” Donovan said. “You have to keep going and every one of these guys after that said ‘forget about it, keep going, keep going’ and I’m very appreciative of that.”

Houston fought for the equalizer, but the Galaxy were able to make the plays when needed, and LA got its chance to put the trophy on ice in stoppage time, as Hall tripped up Robbie Keane in the penalty area, giving LA another penalty, Keane himself stepped up to the penalty spot, and while Hall guessed right this time, he still wasn’t able to stop Keane from converting the penalty to seal the championship for Los Angeles.

“It kind of epitomizes our season. They score first, and we have to come back,” Galaxy Left Back Todd Dunivant said. “Having to come back and battle back, overcome adversity, it was a microcosm of our whole season.”

Indeed it was for the 2012 Los Angeles Galaxy, who clearly were still going through a hangover from last season’s championship, even as Arena made some changes for the start of the season, such as bringing back striker Edson Buddle and bringing back midfielder Juninho on another loan. Still, the Galaxy stumbled off to a 3-8-1 start as LA clearly missed the presence of Omar Gonzalez, who suffered an ACL team while training with Nuremberg int he offseason. However, LA showed signs of life the very week it came back from a lengthy international break when it won three matches in a week’s time and there was no turning back for Los Angeles, as they went 13-4-5 the remainder of the season, good enough for a fourth place finish, then gutted out a one-game playoff win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, then came from behind to upset the Supporters’ Shield winning San Jose Earthquakes in the Conference semifinals and outlasted Seattle in the conference final before having to come from behind again on Saturday to eventually being the last team standing after yet another grueling MLS Campaign.

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