2011 MLS Cup Final: 6 Lessons Learned from LA Galaxy's Win over Houston Dynamo
The 2011 MLS Cup Final was billed as a battle of David vs. Goliath. Houston, missing their best offensive threat, Brad Davis, would be taking on the LA Galaxy, who could arguably be said to have better players than Houston in every single position.
In the background, everyone, especially the commentators, seemed obsessed with the David Beckham story line.
With David Beckham's five year contract with the LA Galaxy running out at the end of this MLS season, many almost seemed more interested in discussing Beckham's impact on the MLS' growth and his future rather than the actual MLS Cup Final.
In the end, the LA Galaxy managed a tough 1-0 win over a gritty Houston Dynamo team, who's defense stood strong for much of the game. On the offense however, Houston were held firmly in check by a resolute Galaxy defense, and were unable to truly threaten the LA Galaxy.
Let's take a look at some of the lessons we learned from the game.
Adam Cristman Is Bad...Really Bad
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One of the biggest reasons that the LA Galaxy dd not dominate the 2011 MLS Cup Final's scoreline came down to the poor performance of Adam Cristman.
The Galaxy's center forward was only playing due to an injury to starting center forward Chad Barrett and showed why he's gotten little playing time for LA this season.
Against Houston, Adam Cristman had three clear-cut chances to open the scoring, yet failed to put any of those chances away or even get them on target.
Off a good Beckham corner kick, Cristman was awarded a free header in an uncharacteristic mistake by the Houston defense, but failed to get it remotely on target.
Later in the first half, Beckham found Cristman with another cross at the back post, only for Cristman to meet it with another poor header attempt.
Finally, a Robbie Keane pass to Cristman in the box gave Cristman the opportunity to hit a good strike at goal and into the net, but Cristman took too long and had his shot smothered by Houston center back Geoff Cameron.
He was given some time to redeem himself in the second half before Bruce Arena gave up on him and decided to substitute him for Chris Birchall, a midfielder.
The LA Galaxy played much better with Cristman off the field, despite the lack of a towering presence up front alongside Robbie Keane.
In my preview of the most important players in the MLS Cup Final, I said that if Cristman played badly against the Dynamo he could make life for his own team, the LA Galaxy, much harder than it should be. I was right.
Without Brad Davis, Houston's Midfield Lacks Creativity
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As someone who has lived in Houston, has immense Houston pride and used to frequently go and watch the Houston Dynamo's home games, I would like to be able to say that I am proud of the effort the Houston Dynamo put out. But the truth is, I'm not.
Without Brad Davis, Houston's midfield was very unorganized and poor. Danny Cruz's runs were predictable and easily stopped while Adam Moffat's service into the box paled in comparison to that of Brad Davis'.
Luiz Camargo made a couple of decent runs into the LA Galaxy's side of the field, but these didn't yield any great opportunities on goal and the Dynamo midfielder was largely invisible.
Corey Ashe, normally played at left back, was the best of the four Houston midfielders, but his crosses still never seemed to find a forward in the box and he was frequently forced to slide back often and cover for the error-prone Jermaine Taylor, whose poor performance showed just how much Houston missed Brad Davis.
Had Houston's midfield generated any chances of note for the Dynamo, I could possibly say that Houston's effort in the final was commendable, but the truth is that the quality of the Dynamo's midfield was abysmal.
Here's hoping that Jermaine Taylor, Luiz Camargo, Adam Moffat and Danny Cruz are all either benched or offloaded by next season. None of these players were close to being MLS Cup Final-worthy. Heck, none of these players would cut it with better teams of England's League One.
Landon Donovan Is the Best Player in the MLS
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Despite all the people wanting Robbie Keane or David Beckham to bag the winning goal in the MLS Cup Final, I wasn't surprised when it was Landon Donovan. After all, Donovan has, to me, always been not only the LA Galaxy's best player, but the MLS' best player for years now.
Despite the influx of Designated Players from around the globe like Thierry Henry or Rafa Marquez, Landon Donovan has always been the best player MLS has to offer, in my opinion at least. His story reminds me of one of my childhood football idols.
As an Egyptian, I'm often asked by many people why it is that Mohamed Aboutrika never chose to pursue a career in Europe. Why did he stay with Al-Ahly for so long when most African players jump at the opportunity to play abroad?
The answer to this is, of course, not straightforward. But the reason why I bring it up is that in Landon Donovan I see someone whose story is very similar to Mohamed Aboutrika.
Both play for the best team in their respective leagues, both are the best players in their league (or, in the case of Aboutrika, were; the Egyptian midfielder is 33 and his age is slowly catching up with him), and both were for some time major targets for big teams in Europe.
Yet both players snubbed offers from abroad to stay home.
Why? Well that's obviously open to debate. Some might say that they're heroes in their domestic league and don't want to give that up to be a role player abroad.
Others might say its their loyalty to the growth of the game at home and contentment with the simple life rather than the lavish lifestyle that many top-level footballers live in Europe with their high-end salaries.
Yet, I am certain that it will once again be only on loan and that at the end of the season he will return to the MLS, ready to be the league's best player and golden boy once more.
Omar Gonzalez Deserves a National Team Call-Up
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When I think about how much the US National Team has struggled with defensive problems this year and how many poor defenders have been called up by Jurgen Klinsmann, I find it a tad ridiculous that Omar Gonzalez, the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year, has yet to be called up to the USMNT by Klinsmann.
If guys like Tim Ream can pick up caps despite being consistently poor, why can't Omar Gonzalez even get a call up? I would argue that he has more quality than either Oguchi Onyewu and Clarence Goodson; he just needs the opportunity to show off his abilities.
Against the Houston Dynamo, neither Brian Ching nor Calen Carr were able to get a sniff of goal with Omar Gonzalez cancelling out movements with consummate ease.
He needs to be in the next USMNT camp. No excuses, Jurgen Klinsmann. I'm glad that we're for more experienced professionals playing in European leagues, but that does not mean that we should ignore the gems playing in our own backyard.
An MLS Cup for the Ages? Most Definitely Not
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So I'm going to be a bit of a Debbie Downer here and say that, all in all, the MLS Cup did not impress me. For the critics of soccer who like to point out how boring soccer games can be at times, this was surely a game to bolster their case.
I had decided to watch the MLS Cup Final to see if the growing hype around the MLS on Bleacher Report was really warranted.
Some highly-respected writers were claiming that the level of the best teams in MLS was better than the quality of the lower-end teams in the English Premier League, and I wanted to see if there was any weight behind these claims.
Well, on the back of this game, I can safely say there isn't. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an MLS hater; as I said earlier, I've gone to many Houston Dynamo games in the past and enjoyed them. But if you offer me the opportunity to watch an EPL game over an MLS game, I'm going to take the EPL game every time.
The simple truth is that the quality is still not there: Houston's midfielders and forwards wouldn't cut it with the lower teams of the English Championship, let alone the Premier League, while the LA Galaxy did not play with the kind of fluidity I expected from what many have billed as "the greatest MLS side ever built."
The MLS is progressing and the product is becoming better. I'm well aware of the fact that the MLS is capable of producing very exciting matches and that not all of them are as nitty-gritty as this MLS Cup Final was.
But surely no one can say that better teams of the MLS, maybe aside from the LA Galaxy, are EPL quality, even lower-end EPL quality.
David Beckham Always Gets His Fairy Tale Ending
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The amount of attention that David Beckham receives can often get really frustrating. I respect the guy, but tonight I realized just how much some people in the MLS absolutely idolize the former England captain.
And yet, there's no denying that David Beckham put in some serious work tonight. In fact, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a player who worked harder than David Beckham in the MLS Cup Final.
David Beckham has now won a title in his final season with every club he's been contracted to. He won the EPL title in his final season with Manchester United, the La Liga title in his final season at Real Madrid and he has now won the MLS Cup in his final season with the LA Galaxy.
I've always thought that David Beckham's constant extension of his playing career was a bad move, that he was riding his fame to make more money and allow teams to exploit him for his public image and commercial benefits.
If he completes his move to Paris Saint-Germain, this may indeed be the case; I don't see him getting much playing time there with all the talented midfielders at the club.
But with this MLS Cup win, David Beckham has shown that there was a point to his last five years with the LA Galaxy. He showed that he came to win and with hard work and determination, he achieved that goal.
Fairy tale ending indeed.