CARSON, Calif. — It turned out to be a double-entendre that the Revolution could have lived without. “First to Five” was the stated quest of the Los Angeles Galaxy, which wanted to accomplish something that no other Major League Soccer club had. But it also happened to be New England’s epitaph here Sunday afternoon as the hosts dealt the Revolution their fifth defeat in five MLS Cup appearances.
“Final, last game, there’s no return leg,” concluded midfielder Lee Nguyen after Robbie Keane’s overtime goal in the 111th minute had given the Galaxy their third crown in four years and sent Landon Donovan into retirement as a six-time champion before a capacity crowd of 27,000 at StubHub Center. “Credit to LA. They played a great game and they’re the champions.”
Once again New England, which lost to Los Angeles in overtime in both 2002 and 2005 and to Houston in 2006 (on penalty kicks) and 2007, came agonizingly close to becoming the fifth Boston-area professional team to win a title.
“Nobody gave us a chance and we rallied around that,” said coach Jay Heaps after his club just missed winning in regulation when Teal Bunbury’s bid bounced off the woodwork in the 85th minute.
But ultimately the championship went to the club that knew what it was to hoist a trophy and spray champagne.
“That’s impressive stuff,” said LA coach Bruce Arena, who swigged from a bottle of Korbel bubbly as he celebrated his fifth Cup, two of them with D.C. United in 1996 and 1997. “I think you can say that especially in a league like ours that probably doesn’t want that to be the case and would be happy just moving the title from one franchise to the next each year. So that’s a bit of a dynasty at this point.”
The Revolution, who survived an eight-match midsummer losing streak (and a 5-1 blistering here) to reach the title match for the first time in seven years, gave the Galaxy all they could handle, drawing even on Chris Tierney’s tally in the 79th minute. But when winning time came it was Keane, the Galaxy’s captain and the league’s Most Valuable Player, who took a pass from midfielder Marcelo Sarvas and drove it home.
“I knew I would get a chance,” said Keane, who’d scored on 19 of them this season. “And I knew I’d put it away.”
While New England had won road playoff matches against Columbus and New York, prevailing here, where LA hadn’t lost since its opening stumble against Real Salt Lake in March, was a tall order. As it was, the Revolution dodged a near-disastrous opening when Scott Caldwell managed to clear a deflected ball from Robbie Rogers that likely would have put the visitors behind in the second minute.
Once the Revolution got their pulse rates down, they did a commendable job of keeping the Galaxy’s attacking trio under control.
“We knew they’re pretty powerful when they come forward,” said Heaps. “Landon and Keane and [Gyasi] Zardes are dangerous.”
When the first Galaxy goal came in the 52d minute, it was from the foot of Zardes, the least-celebrated of the three, a second-year pro from up the road in Hawthorne who played his college soccer at Cal State-Bakersfield and who’d scored twice on New England in their July meeting. This time Zardes pounced on a deflected ball, went wide, and rifled a shot past keeper Bobby Shuttleworth to the far corner.
The Galaxy, which had beaten New England by 1-0 counts in both of their previous Cup encounters, had hoped that one goal would be enough. But the Revolution, who came from behind twice to draw with New York and earn their trip here, had a bit of ammunition left.
Patrick Mullins, who’d come on as striker for the banged-around Charlie Davies in the 72d minute, took a long ball from defender Jose Goncalves and crossed to Tierney, who’d dashed into the area. His bid went through keeper Jaime Penedo and it was 1-1.
“It could have gone either way,” mused Tierney. “They had some chances and we had some chances.”
Had Bunbury’s looper from the left side ricocheted in, New England might well have been able to hang on. But when the match went to overtime, the Revs were at a disadvantage. They’d used their final substitute when Nguyen, who’d cramped, had to come off for Andy Dorman just as added time was beginning.
“Obviously he’s our go-to playmaker for everything,” observed Heaps.
So the championship came down to one man and one moment. Keane, the Irish icon who was a legend at Tottenham Hotspur, had missed one chance but he wasn’t going to miss another. When Sarvas served up a lovely ball, Keane put it away and had all of New England keening with dismay.
The Galaxy are a team full of champions, as Donovan observed after they’d squeaked past top-seeded Seattle on an aggregate tiebreaker in the Western Conference final. That’s why they’re the First to Five.
“The reason why we’re the best team is because we’re winning trophies,” said Keane. “Very simple. We’re winning trophies. If you didn’t win trophies, you wouldn’t be the best team.”