Los Angeles Galaxy missed a host of chances in a dominant MLS Cup performance on home soil, but a solitary goal from captain Landon Donovan was enough to help Bruce Arena’s side to their first championship since 2005.
In the 72nd minute of the game, and with extra-time beginning to enter the thoughts of both managers, Galaxy’s three Designated Players combined for the decisive moment.
Robbie Keane darted onto a David Beckham flick-on, escaped the unconvincing challenge of Bobby Boswell and slipped a well-weighted pass through for Donovan to prod into the far corner despite the best efforts of Tally Hall in the Dynamo goal.
It was Donovan’s first goal from open play since September 9, and helped cap the 4th MLS triumph of the 29-year-old’s career.
Before the game much of the discussion was about how Dominic Kinnear’s Houston side would replace league assist-leader Brad Davis, who missed out with a quad strain.
In the end Kinnear opted for the same combination with which his team finished the Eastern Conference Final, Jermaine Taylor lining up behind Corey Ashe in an attempt to nullify the threat of Donovan.
Bruce Arena had one key decision with regards to his starting line-up, and he opted to keep his midfield four the same as in the victory over Real Salt Lake while making a like-for-like swap up front, Adam Cristman replacing the injured Chad Barrett.
He may have begun to question that decision as Cristman missed a number of presentable chances early on, the first a free header from Beckham’s 12th minute corner which he sent wide with the goal gaping.
Cristman has found the net just once in his 11 MLS appearances this season, and while three goals in other competitions demonstrate some form in front of goal, a lack of confidence seemed to show as he missed two further opportunities within the space of a minute. The first a mis-timed jump when rising to meet another Beckham delivery, and then taking too long to get a shot away following a through-ball from Keane.
Houston barely threatened in the first half, Danny Cruz’s tame 44th minute shot the closest they came, and within a minute of that effort being gathered by Josh Saunders the ball was almost in the net at the other end. Indeed Galaxy could well have gone into the break ahead had Mike Magee – scorer of a playoff-high three goals – not blazed over from close range.
It was more of the same in the second half as Houston opted not to change things, and Keane ought to have given his team a 49th minute lead but could only drag wide after an unfortunate Luiz Camargo deflection found the Irishman with just Hall to beat.
And the former Tottenham Hotspur striker came even closer 10 minutes later only for a marginal offside call to deny him a fifth Galaxy goal in just nine appearances.
That seemed to spark Dynamo into action, with Ashe firing into the side-netting and Moffat leading a powerful attack before heading wide on the stretch from the left-back’s whipped cross.
However, that was as good as it got for the men in orange, and within six minutes Donovan’s strike gave them an uphill task to win their third MLS Cup following victories in 2006 and 2007.
Indeed it could have been worse, only for Donovan to fire straight at Hall in the 79th minute and Beckham’s injury time free-kick forcing a tip over from the Houston goalkeeper.
With Beckham’s contract due to run out and the Englishman seemingly set for a move away from Major League Soccer a clinching goal could have been the icing on the cake, but he will surely be happy with his first championship as a Galaxy player considering the frustration of 2009’s defeat to Real Salt Lake.
Houston did what they could to make a game of it but may justifiably claim they were hamstrung without the creativity of Davis, and in reality they cannot feel too hard done by after only managing one shot on target throughout the 90.
This was Galaxy’s day, and considering their dominance over the course of both regular season and playoffs it is tough to argue that the title did not go to the right team.