MLS Cup final: what we learned from the Galaxy win

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CARSON, Calif. – So much of the talk in bigger sports circles will be about David Beckham finishing his MLS career with a flourish, with a 3-1 win at the Home Depot Center. But the moment clearly also belongs to the Galaxy, to Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez and the rest.

Here are the five important points to be gathered from the 17th MLS Cup, where Bruce Arena’s Los Angeles Galaxy successfully defended its MLS Cup title.

The stars do matter

In the early DP years, the narrative was built that MLS teams could still win without the pricey Designated Players who were slowly being added to rosters. But now, with the most DPed-up of MLS sides claiming a second consecutive Major League Soccer crown, it’s pretty clear that the big salaries do matter in the MLS Cup chase.

Donovan and Robbie Keane each scored from the penalty spot. Beckham did his part, especially early, essentially supplying all of the Galaxy offense with those laser-targeted balls over 40, 50 or 60 yards. Truly, his long-range passing early Saturday was even more deadly than usual.

The talk now will be how Los Angeles and manager Bruce Arena use the DP slots going forward. Who will replace Beckham? Will they have another one to replace in Donovan?

But this much is clear: using the slots wisely (and spending lavishly surely helps) can beat the path to glory that works in MLS.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk Man of the Match)

Home field matters

Not that it’s any surprise, but the team with home field advantage just won for a second consecutive year. Going forward, teams will work even harder to be the higher seed, gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to get those few extra points, to advance a little higher up the combined table.

Talking to the Dynamo players and staff this week, they understand that they slipped in the standings because of too many draws at home against teams they probably should have beaten.

In critical moments the home field was the difference, especially during those telling, harried second-half minutes when the Galaxy found the way through and effectively finished off the contest, riding the momentum of vocal home ground support.

Experience matters

The Galaxy lost the plot for about 20-30 minutes in the middle of the match, as Houston hit the opener and then kept the home team from looking too threatening. But no worries … they have the kind of experienced soldiers who won’t collapse under the moment.

Said Man of the Match Omar Gonzalez: “None of us were actually worried. Me and Robbie were talking after and said that we didn’t see any other outcome other than us winning.”

The Galaxy won this match by recognizing an opponent left reeling. A quick succession of events midway through the second half. with the match tied, put the Dynamo on its heels – and the Galaxy pounced.

That’s not as simple as it sounds. It takes experience to recognize the moment, to seize the initiative and really finish a stumbling foe. The Galaxy has men with the chops and the experience.

In the last 10-15 minutes, the Galaxy brilliantly managed out the match. Not only did Bruce Arena’s side keep tidy in the back and the midfield, preventing the Dynamo from getting many real opportunities.

That’s the experience working, too.

“We were putting a lot of pressure on them,” Donovan said. “It seemed inevitable that the second goal was going to come.”

Omar Gonzalez is bound for the national team

On Friday, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann mentioned his intentions to get Omar Gonzalez more firmly hammered into the U.S. plans.

Gonzalez did a little hammering of his own Saturday, hammering away ball after ball along the Galaxy back line, hammering his way into position for the second-half equalizer and leaving absolutely no doubt about his value to this club.

Klinsmann was at the Home Depot Center, and surely a little wide-eyed like the rest of us as the 2011 Defender of the Year put on such a stunning show.

It wasn’t just the physical attributes, either. Gonzalez was expertly positioned all afternoon, always seeming to find just the right spot.

Oh, on the Galaxy’s second goal, it was Gonzalez who knocked the telling ball back into position for the mad scramble to follow.

MORE: Omar Gonzalez PST’s MLS Cup Man of the Match

Big-game feel

The afternoon had a big-game feel to it – and these events need such a thing.

This was the first year of a major MLS playoff tweak, where the higher seed among finalists get host rights. And it means so much. For L.A. players to dance with such delight before their home fans during the trophy presentation, to get the big noise as the Galaxy seized control over a telling three or four minutes, to get such sections full of impassioned supporters – these are things that just don’t happen during neutral site finals.

It makes the events far more memorable and, in the long run, will boost MLS to places it wants to be that much faster.

(Keep checking back; lots more to come on the Galaxy win)

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.