David Beckham was the main attraction. Landon Donovan scored the winner. Robbie Keane put the champagne on ice.
None of them had the impact of Omar Gonzalez.
Saturday night's MLS Cup final played out on multiple levels as the Los Angeles Galaxy defeated the Houston Dynamo 3-1 at the Home Depot Center for their second straight league championship. At once, it represented a rematch, a sendoff, a record-setting evening and a red-carpet premiere for a player who could be one of America's next big talents.
And you thought it was just a soccer game.
For the casual fan, the night served as one last chance to see Beckham—the man, the legend, the underpants—in the flesh. Almost six years after joining the Galaxy, Beckham played his final match for the team, and the hype machine nearly imploded on itself.
For the dedicated fan, it was a chance to enjoy a grudge match, a rematch between the same teams that contested the 2011 final. The Galaxy won again, but only after the Houston Dynamo took a deserved first-half lead and threatened to ruin the previously scheduled SoCal Saturday night.
For the record keepers, it was a busy night on multiple fronts. The Galaxy won a fourth MLS title—tied for the most in league history. Donovan claimed his fifth MLS Cup, joint-best all time, and manager Bruce Arena won his fourth—twice as many as any other coach. Even the Home Depot Center held a record crowd of 30,510 (via the Los Angeles Times).
Finally—and maybe most importantly—for Jurgen Klinsmann, it must have been a moment of clarity.
Gonzalez, the Galaxy's 24-year-old industrial-strength central defender, lit up the match like it was his own Hollywood soundstage, towering over helpless opponents at both ends with his powerful 6'5" frame, scoring the Galaxy's second-half equalizer and deservedly taking home the game's Most Valuable Player award.
Klinsmann, the manager of a United States men's national team in serious need of an identity, might just have found his next Mr. Dependable. And if not, it might be time to start asking serious questions about our Fußball-Meister-in-chief.
Simply put: Gonzalez was the game's best player Saturday night, and it wasn't even close. He coupled a tireless work-rate with an imperious physical presence to devastating effect, and Houston, in all fairness, had a problem from the start.
We should have seen it coming. Gonzalez warned us before the match and throughout the season.
"Omar's comin'..." Gonzalez tweeted Saturday afternoon, quoting the popular character of the same first name from the television series The Wire. Like that Omar, this Omar wreaked havoc on his opponents without the need for surprise and struck fear into their hearts in the process.
Unlike that Omar, everything this Omar does is legal—and it should win him fame and fortune in no time.
Omar's comin'...— Omar Gonzalez (@Omar4Gonzalez) December 1, 2012
For Gonzalez, the message, like his game, came across loud and clear throughout the season and throughout 2012. After tearing an ACL in January while on loan with FC Nürnberg (via SB Nation), Gonzalez returned—astoundingly—in July and inspired a turnaround that eventually led to Saturday night's title-game triumph.
Through 13 games of the 2012 season, the Galaxy held a 3-8-2 record. They finished 16-12-6 and, of course, league champions.
Listening to the chatter around the league, it quickly becomes clear that Gonzalez was the key.
"Probably the turning point in their season was when he got healthy," said Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear (via Reuters). "His timing today (in the MLS Cup) was excellent. He changed the momentum."
For Klinsmann and any fan of the United States national team, Kinnear's words should flip a mental light-switch. Gonzalez—as both Saturday and the 2012 season proved—is a powerful, physical and talented game-changer. The U.S., coming off a series of shaky performances in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, needs someone exactly like that.
As the final round of qualifying approaches, the U.S. faces a period of soul-searching not unlike what the Galaxy experienced earlier this year. Klinsmann's team did enough to qualify for the final round, but if the Yanks repeat their performances from the semifinal round against regional powers like Mexico, they might not make the next World Cup.
Gonzalez isn't a miracle worker. His presence on the team would not suddenly change everything for the good.
But with yet another commanding performance for the MLS champions Saturday night, he gave Klinsmann plenty to think about. With two caps, Gonzalez has already been brought into the national team's setup. Now it's time to make him a regular and end any thoughts of a defection to El Tri (via ESPN).
With veteran defender and captain Carlos Bocanegra pushing into his mid-30s, the time is ripe for a changing of the guard. Any and all who watched the MLS Cup final Saturday will have a good idea about who should replace him.
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