Beckham Goes Out in Style as Galaxy Win MLS Cup Chock Full of History (And Our Prediction Comes True)

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The Los Angeles Galaxy sent David Beckham out a winner, locking down a 3-1 victory over Houston in the MLS Cup final this past Saturday, and giving the Englishman—who had announced that this game would be his last in the league—his second U.S. domestic title in six seasons.

That was only the most high-profile chunk of history carved out at the Home Depot Center. Landon Donovan, who may be headed elsewhere as well, won a record-tying fifth MLS championship and became the league’s alltime leading scorer in all competitions when he scored the Cup-winning goal from the spot, giving him 146 career goals (regular season and playoffs).

The win delivered Los Angeles its fourth MLS Cup title, tied with D.C. United for the most ever.

There was also coach Bruce Arena’s fourth title—two more than any other coach in MLS history—and a second consecutive one for Irish international Robbie Keane, who who iced the game with a penalty in stoppage time, scoring his sixth goal of the playoffs, tied for second-most alltime in a single postseason.

Twenty-four year-old center back and budding U.S. national team prospect Omar Gonzalez completed his return from a torn ACL (suffered in January) by winning the game MVP award.

Also historic, if only for its Halley’s Comet–like rarity, was our spot-on—3-1 LA—pregame prediction (scroll down for it).

To the highlights, which really should be run in sepia tones:

Still can’t believe Donovan missed that sitter in the first half.

Adding to the end-of-an-era, history-making aspect of the game was the talk afterward about this Galaxy team’s place in the MLS pantheon. Are they best team in the league’s 17 years?

They’ve been to three finals and won two. They’ve won two Supporters’ Shields (and narrowly missed a third), and they suit up the league’s best player all-time in Donovan, its most galvanizing in Beckham, and one of its deadliest strikers ever in Keane.

Still, for over all balance and accomplishment, we’d give the nod to the D.C. United teams from 1996 to ’99.

They appeared in four straight finals, won three, and featured Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno in their primes, alongside U.S. national teamers Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos, John Harkes, Roy Lassiter, Carlos Llamosa, Ben Olsen, and Richie Williams.

That D.C. dynasty also won the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup, a precursor to the CONCACAF Champions League, and, most impressively, the ’98 Copa Interamericana, a competition between the winners of the CONCACAF Champions Cup and the South American Copa Libertadores.

The Black-and-Red defeated Brazil’s Vasco da Gama to win that trophy, and it’s probably the most impressive competitive notch on MLS’s belt in 17 years as a league.

This Galaxy side is a good and historic one, but they’re a shade behind that D.C. club.

They do have one thing in common with them, though: coach Bruce Arena.

Galaxy Reels Off Fourth Straight Win, Serves Notice for the Postseason

Remember when Toronto FC eliminated Los Angeles from the CONCACAF Champions League back in March, and then the Galaxy got off to a 3-8-2 start in Major League Soccer? Seems like a long time ago now.

Bruce Arena’s men clipped that same Toronto FC side (well, an injury-depleted version of it) 4-2 on Saturday to run their record to 15-11-4 and move into second place in the West, ahead of Real Salt Lake on goals scored.

They’re doing it all in a way that should put the competition on notice—with Robbie Keane and Juninho on fire (check out their goals below), with Landon Donovan rounding back into form (he had two assists on Saturday to push his league-leading total to 14), with new veteran signing Christian Wilhelmsson fitting in—and without David Beckham.

They’ll have him back for the playoffs, which will only make them more dangerous.

Highlights:

Keane’s goals were his 13th and 14th of the year, tied for second most in the league, and the win clinched a playoff berth for the Galaxy. They’re back in action next week against Colorado.

Bruce Arena: The Most Sensible Man in U.S. Soccer?

Former U.S. national team and three-time MLS Cup champion coach Bruce Arena appeared on Major League Soccer’s ExtraTime Radio podcast yesterday, and he opened up a can of … refreshing candor and common sense.

As co-host Greg Lalas told us, “He’s at a stage in his career now where he can just speak his mind.” Speak his mind he did. Some of the highlights:

On current U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s statements that American players have too much time off:

“I would say this: the only reason players around the world play 10-and-a-half months is because those clubs have to schedule that for revenue purposes. I think every club around the world would probably tell you, ‘Our players are run into the ground. They need more rest, and their time off is invaluable.’

“Let’s look at the top two clubs in the world: Barcelona and Real Madrid. Do you think that the best thing for Lionel Messi to do is just continue to play and play and play in the offseason? Those players are taxed to their limits. They’re being pushed as hard as you can push them, and the time off is valuable. [But] listen: there’s no question that a player in MLS who stops playing in October and doesn’t resume training until late August [he said August, but we’re pretty certain he meant January.—Ed.] that’s a little too long. However, there’s nothing wrong with players having six to eight weeks off. Your body needs time to recover and have a reasonable preseason—there’s nothing wrong with that.

“I agree with some of Jurgen’s comments that the MLS players could have an extended season, but on the other hand, looking at the other way, players around the world are run into the ground and they need the proper rest of the offseason. So, it’s give-and-take in both area.”

Heads were nodding in agreement at the Backpost World HQ while Arena said the above. When Klinsmann made his statements about wanting guys to play 11 months a year, we were reminded of some old comments by NBA legend Bill Walton, who said that pro basketball players actually had to “get out of shape” to properly recover from the pounding of an NBA season. Sounded reasonable to us, and perfectly applicable to soccer players. Your body needs downtime to recover. Your mind does too.

On the search for the “American style” that Klinsmann has frequently mentioned:

“Well the American style is what we always said it is. And it hasn’t changed. It’s always been that, and there was this kind of rumor that we were all of a sudden going to have a team with a great flavor of Hispanic players and Mexican-Americans and all of that. Do you see any of those on the field right now?”

No. No, we don’t. We did see defenders Michael Orozco Fiscal and Edgar Castillo on the field not too long ago, but … it didn’t work out for either of them.

But hey, Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna are both on the U.S. Soccer staff now and … Junior Flores is a bona fide U-17 star. So… that elusive “American style” could yet emerge.

On Clint Dempsey’s current form and the clamor for him to go to a bigger club:

 “Clint has obviously grown tremendously as a player. He’s a guy I had with the national team, and if you can excuse my French, we used to say all the time, ‘He tries s-h-*-t.’ So he has the courage to try things on the field and be an aggressive attacking player. And that’s very rare for American players, and Clint has always had that kind of confidence and uniqueness to himself. I think he’s at a club that’s very good for him. And I’m just hopeful that—there’s a lot of speculation that he’s going to move on—and I think that has to be balanced properly, because one thing he can be assured of at Fulham is that he’s going to be on the field. That’s a nice match right now. To alter that, I hope it isn’t a move that may impact his ability to continue to play on a consistent basis.”

You can listen to the rest of the interview, along with an appearance from Seattle winger Steve Zakuani, right here.

Appearing on ETR a week ago, Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl was asked about David Beckham’s recent decision to stay in Los Angeles. In addition to the reasons commonly cited—lifestyle, family’s happiness, growing the game here—Wahl, who wrote a book about Beckham and the Galaxy in 2009, mentioned Arena, saying he thinks Beckham came to realize “that Bruce Arena is an amazing coach. Who has completely turned around what was one of the most dysfunctional teams [the 2008 Galaxy] we’ve ever seen in Major League Soccer.”

Hopefully, Arena won’t be needed to perform a similar 180 in a second stint with the USMNT any time soon—but it’s nice to know he’s there.

Galaxy Add to Trophy Haul: Arena Named Coach of the Year, Beckham Takes Comeback Award

They already have the Supporters’ Shield salted away in the Home Depot Center trophy case, and on Sunday, they’ll be gunning for the MLS Cup (9:00 ET, ESPN, Galavision). Today, the Galaxy added two more honors to their 2011 collection: Bruce Arena won the Coach of the Year award, and midfielder David Beckham was named Comeback Player of the Year.

There was much grousing on comment boards and in the Twittersphere about Beckham’s qualifications as a comeback case, but Soccer By Ives helpfully pointed out that Becks ruptured his Achilles tendon in the spring of 2010, missed most of that season, then “came back and had MVP-caliber 2011.”

His season may have been just shy of “MVP caliber,” but, yes, Beckham qualifies for the category based on that explanation.

Others complained that DC United striker Charlie Davies, another nominee for the award, shouldn’t have been a candidate because he had never played in MLS before. He’s undoubtedly a comeback case, having suffered traumatic and multiple injuries in a near-fatal 2009 car crash.

These objections, and the nomination of Chicago striker Dominic Oduro, point up the vagueness of the award. (What was Oduro—who busted out for a career-high 12 goals for the Fire this season—coming back from? Mediocrity?)

In any event, Beckham takes home the award.

His manager edged Seattle gaffer Sigi Schmid and Sporting KC boss Peter Vermes for the coaching honor.

This one could have gone to any of the three with justification, but Arena won it for a season in which he led his team to a league-best 19-5-10 record, an undefeated season at home, an MLS-record-tying 17 shutouts, a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and of course a spot in Sunday’s MLS Cup final. Not a bad year.

Tomorrow, the league will announce the Goalkeeper and Newcomer of the Year award winners.

Galaxy Signs 16-Year-Old Academy Player Jack McBean

The Los Angeles Galaxy announced the signing of former Corona del Mar High School sophomore and Galaxy academy product Jack McBean today, making the six-foot target striker the fourth-youngest player ever to sign with MLS.

McBean is currently with the U.S. Under-17 team in Jamaica, preparing for next month’s CONCACAF U-17 championship, which will determine the region’s representatives in the U-17 World Cup (Mexico, June 18-July 10). He will join the Galaxy’s preseason camp following the U-17 qualifiers, and become the club’s second Homegrown Player after Tristan Bowen, whom LA traded in December.

With MLS rosters expanding from 24 to 30 this season (and the reintroduction of the Reserve Division), there’s a good chance that McBean will stick with the club in 2011.

“He is strong with his back to the goal and athletically good at 16,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, according to the Orange County Register. “[But] we don’t get any bonus point for playing 16-, 17-, 18-year-old players, so he is now with the men.  We’ll see how that adds up in our environment.”

Arena Defends Bradley; Gardner Bashes Both

Last week, Bruce Arena came out in defense of his old friend and former assistant Bob Bradley in the wake of Bradley’s contract saga with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Among other things, Arena said that Bradley did not get the support he deserved from U.S. Soccer, and that the USMNT needs an American coach, someone “who understands the American way.”

He wrapped up his remarks with the following:

“Bob can put 11 players on the field as well as anyone and get the best out of them. I will tell you now: We are not winning the World Cup in 2014, whoever is in charge.

“People need to be realistic. The best thing [the critics] can do is shut up. A bunch of people get on the internet and start stirring things up and it snowballs. Just let him do his job.”

That last volley got to Soccer America writer Paul Gardner—who, by the way, was in the same recent U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame class as Arena.

Gardner rightly points out that, compared to national-team coaching jobs elsewhere in the world, the U.S. post is practically criticism-free. He then casts doubt on the need for an American coach of the USMNT, and takes Bradley to task for his evasive (and boring) style at press conferences.

But when he launches what is, as far as we can tell, his primary criticism of the Bradley regime, he stumbles.

Here it is: 

“Bradley, an intelligent man, must surely … see that if he doesn’t become a good deal more adventurous in his selection of players, then he will preside over another four-year span of average performances followed by a disappointing World Cup.”

Become a good deal more adventurous in his selection of players’—really, Paul? What does that mean?

Bradley looked at 92 players in his first four-year cycle. Which ones did he miss? 

Is there some vast untapped pipeline of U.S. talent out there? Please, do U.S. Soccer a favor and identify its whereabouts.

You want adventure? Bradley took Robbie Findley to South Africa (and got criticized for this outside-the-box, adventurous selection). He held the door open as long as possible for Charlie Davies and Jermaine Jones.

He also, at various times, called in Marcus Tracy, Frank Simek, and Jeremiah White (who is plying his trade in Poland right now).

He also stuck with—and got two good World Cup games out of—the much-maligned Jonathan Bornstein.

The default criticism here is that Hispanic-American players aren’t given enough of a look by U.S. Soccer. Bradley looked at Edgar Castillo, Alejandro BedoyaJose Francisco Torres, and Herculez Gomez this cycle, with the latter two making the trip to South Africa. Michael Orozco was called in for a 2008 qualifier.

No, we don’t think the conservative-player-selection charge holds water. Bradley did not leave a stone unturned.

It’s true that no coach is above criticism, and that Bradley tends to circle the wagons when facing the press.

It’s also true that he came in for more than his share of heat from the soccer nation before, during, and after the 2010 World Cup.

Your National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2010

This group will be honored in a ceremony before tonight’s U.S.-Brazil game at the New Meadowlands Stadium (ESPN2, 8:00 p.m. EST).

Bruce Arena

Led U.S. to 2002 World Cup quarterfinals.

Thomas Dooley

German import provided veteran leadership and backbone in the middle for the U.S. throughout the 1990s.

Preki

Owner of the wickedest left foot in U.S. soccer history (and current coach of Toronto FC). Scored the lone goal in U.S.’s historic 1998 Gold Cup win over Brazil.

Kyle Rote Jr.

Pioneering Yank played seven seasons in the NASL, made historic Nutrament commercial.

Bonus, semi-related clip:

Pelé’s 1975 NASL Debut

Check out the field they made him play on: Downing Stadium, Randall’s Island, NYC, unbelievable. No matter, he had a goal and an assist.