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.

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Is Steven Lenhart the Dennis Rodman of Major League Soccer?

Following Sunday night’s 2-2 draw between Los Angeles and San Jose at Buck Shaw Stadium, Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez made some unusually pointed comments to the league website about the physical style of San Jose in general and Quakes striker Steven Lenhart in particular:

“I think those guys are a bunch of jokes, the way they play the game. It was just obnoxious. And, you know, it wasn’t even fun out there. It was terrible.”

Gonzalez continued, zeroing in on a play where he and Lenhart had contact and Gonzalez was whistled for a foul that led to a free-kick goal by Marvin Chavez in the 60th minute:

“I would say it was a foul on me—like I got fouled. Because my eyes were directly on the ball, and I’m just running back and, all of a sudden, I got hit. But Jair [Marrufo, the referee] said I fell on him.”

That’s a scenario that will ring a bell with Real Salt Lake fans. Check out this play from earlier in the season, when Lenhart vied for a ball over the top with RSL center back Jamison Olave:

Kind of reminds us of this, from Game 1 of the 1996 NBA Finals:

But back to LA’s Gonzalez, who was just getting warmed up with the comments above. He went on:

“It all starts when the ball’s on the other side of the field, and you’re just running and all of a sudden you get blindsided. You just get checked by Lenhart or something. It’s just dumb s*** like that happens every time, and that’s not the way the game should be played. It’s embarrassing.”

Of course Lenhart’s shenanigans, like Rodman’s back in the day, are not limited to off-the-ball provocations. Sometimes he’ll pull a prank in full view of everyone, and get away with it:

That one kind of reminds us of this less successful stunt by Rodman:

As for the San Jose camp, Quakes coach Frank Yallop wasn’t fazed by Gonzalez’s comments. Here he is yesterday, on ExtraTime Radio:

“He’s entitled to his opinion. But we go about business like we do. Do I want our players fouling and playing dirty? No, I don’t. But hey, it’s give-and-take. He can make his comments, whatever he wants to say about our team. But I will say that we try hard. We give 100% every time we step on the field and yesterday was no different….

“It’s for other people to judge us. And I’m not saying his comments are wrong. Because obviously, he’s free to make his own judgment. But we just go about business like we do, and hopefully it’s enough to go all the way this year.”

Regarding the Quakes’ style and other accusations of off-the-ball gamesmanship, Yallop ignored the gamesmanship part, but said that he’s always liked playing with a target forward, from Ronald Cerritos to Brian Ching to his current tandem of Lenhart and Alan Gordon. The Quakes’ style, he said, speaks for itself:

“People talk about our style—scoring 70-odd goals is a pretty good style.”

San Jose leads the league with 71 goals scored, 20 more than the nearest competitor.

If Gonzalez and Los Angeles can get by sub-.500 Vancouver in the play-in game, they’ll meet San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals.

MLS fans can only hope that matchup happens.

Gonzalez, Cameron, Sapong Called to Klinsmann’s January Camp

U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann invited 20 players to his first training camp of 2012, which will take place in Glendale, Ariz., and Carson, Calif., from Jan 3 to Jan 26.

The group will compete in friendlies against Venezuela on Jan 21 in Glendale and against Panama on Jan 25 in Panama City.

The roster is heavy with MLS players, including such first-time call-ups as Graham Zusi and CJ Sapong of Sporting Kansas City, Omar Gonzalez of Los Angeles and George John of FC Dallas.

Here’s the full group:

GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS: Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), George John (FC Dallas), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA)

MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

In comments published on the US Soccer website, Klinsmann essentially said this was a roster of backups and second-stringers, but the selection includes players such as Beckerman and Shea, both of whom have been regular starters in the early Klinsmann era. “Ultimately, it will create more depth for us, which you need at this level,” said the U.S. coach. “I’m very curious and excited to see this group.”

We’d wager that at least two from this roster—Cameron and Sapong—will edge into the starting-XI picture before too long. Klinsmann has shown a desire to have at least one centerback (in addition to the physically imposing Oguchi Onyewu, presumably) who can pass the ball out of the back skillfully.

He’s tried Tim Ream there for that purpose, with mixed to negative results. Cameron, a converted central midfielder, looks to be a much better option: He is equal to or better than Ream in the foot-skills department and he’s superior both physically (6-3) and athletically. If he shows well in this camp, we’d love to see Klinsmann try an Onyewu–Cameron pairing in the middle of defense sometime soon.

Sapong is a player we’ve been bullish on since we got our first long glimpse of him last spring, and we can’t wait to see him in a U.S. shirt. He’s incredibly athletic, highly skilled and poised on the ball, and he can play with his back to goal, holding possession until his teammates get involved. He’s also got a nose for goal. Check out this clip here for an idea of his potential.

There hasn’t been a striker with his skill set in the U.S. pool since Brian McBride, and Sapong is slightly more athletic than the Fulham legend.

Another player who could challenge for the centerback spot—and who, at 6-5, could offer a Twin Towers pairing alongside Onyewu—is the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez, the 2011 Defender of the Year in Major League Soccer.

Whatever shakes out, it’ll be interesting to watch. The Jan 21 Venezuela match kicks off at 9:00 pm ET; kickoff time for the Jan 25 Panama game is TBD.