Los Angeles Galaxy defeat Revolution 2-1 in 2014 MLS Cup and send Landon Donovan off a winner

December 8, 2014

Gyasi Zardes scores / Photo: Tri Le
Carson, Calif. -- Facing a boisterous championship atmosphere with 27,000 mostly Los Angeles Galaxy fans packed into the StubHub Center, the New England Revolution appeared ready to tackle the difficult task of stopping the Galaxy from winning their record fifth MLS Cup in their home stadium.

In the end, however, it was the Galaxy who outplayed the New England Revolution and scored the game-winning overtime goal despite having less overall possession and allowing the Revs to crawl back into the game.

In the first half, it was obvious that both teams had butterflies, as the chemistry and offensive prestige that the Galaxy had displayed both throughout the regular season and into the playoffs was missing.

Fortunately for Los Angeles, a solid defensive backline afforded the Galaxy more time to find their sync.

Perhaps the most important moment of the game was a tremendous defensive effort by Omar Gonzalez, as he maintained strides with and then blocked a Charlie Davies shot that would have surely given Galaxy goalie Jaime Penedo trouble. Davies had pounced onto a perfectly weighted through ball and set himself up for a blistering shot, but the outstretched 6’5’’ Omar Gonzalez blocked it superbly.

At halftime, New England was undoubtedly content with the 0-0 score, as the Revs put forth a shaky defensive effort, had minimal scoring chances, and needed to improve their performance in order to avoid a seemingly impending Galaxy goal.

In the 51st minute, New England's Lee Nguyen had a wonderful scoring opportunity from 8 yards out, but elected to try and draw a penalty instead of shooting the ball from a position that would have likely resulted in a goal. Nguyen would argue that he was fouled, but it was an easy decision for the referee. The non-call was the right call.

One minute later, the Galaxy overcame their early jitters and punished the Revolution when Gyasi Zardes controlled the ball, displayed great patience in the box, and slotted it home from the exact spot that Nguyen could have scored from just moments before.

"I was very patient after my first touch, I was just ready for it, didn’t put my head down or anything and tried to get the shot off as quick as possible,” said Zardes.

Credit for the play was also given to Keane, who suggested at halftime that the Galaxy should have Zardes and Donovan switch positions.

“Robbie Keane suggested it at half time," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena.  "He should probably be the player-manager of this team. We had of loose balls, but probably needed to be a little bit cleaner in the final third with our passing, our runs. Moving Landon there suggested we could be a little bit better there. Having said that, Gyasi was very good playing in the midfield. The change helped us."

But with LA seemingly in control with a 1-0 lead, New England's Chris Tierney tied the game in the 79th minute after a superb first touch on a Patrick Mullins pass set up a blistering left-footed finish to the far post.

"I thought Patrick Mullins did a nice job reading the play and did a great job to keep it alive and Chris [Tierney] did a nice job of finding the little gap and scoring a good goal,” said New England coach Jay Heaps.

The tying goal led to a sudden change of momentum as the Revolution became the more dangerous team.
Lee Nguyen / Photo: Tri Le

In the 85th minute, Teal Bunbury, son of Canadian National Team legend Alex Bunbury, nearly capitalized off of a clever Lee Nguyen dish when he chipped the ball over Galaxy keeper Jaime Penedo, only to be denied the go-ahead goal by the crossbar.

“I really liked the way we came out and had close to 60 percent possession. That was key; we wanted to take it away from them possession-wise. I really felt it wasn’t our best game in the final third but I thought we dictated a lot of the game,” said Heaps.

Fatigue became a big factor in the second half and affected players on both sides, none more than Nguyen, who left the game in the 90th minute, overcome by leg cramps.

During the break before overtime, many of the Galaxy players were lying on the ground and being stretched by their trainers.  Needless to say they looked tired, prompting Arena to replace Stefan Ishizake and Robbie Rogers with Alan Gordon and Dan Gargan.

"Not only did my teammates go out with cramps but a lot of them [the Galaxy players] got cramps too so it was a tough game for both sides,” said Revolution star Jermaine Jones.

During overtime, New England battled back as the game turned physical with numerous individual fouls that kept the referee busy handing out several yellow cards.

The go-ahead goal came in the 111th minute of overtime when Robbie Keane slotted home the goal for a 2-1 lead.  Marcelo Sarvas played a wonderful looping through ball onto Keane who found himself unmarked. The league and MLS Cup MVP made the most of his opportunity and shot the ball with his right foot to the far post leaving Revolution keeper Bobby Shuttleworth with no chance of making the save.

The action did not cease with Keane's goal, as both teams went back and forth and enjoyed numerous chances to score during the exciting overtime. In the final minutes, Revolution rookie substitute Mullins made a well struck shot that was saved by Penedo, and in the end the Galaxy came away victorious. A fitting end to an exciting match that had initially started slowly.

Despite New England dominating the possession, the Galaxy nevertheless were the better team because they generated more quality offense, had better scoring opportunities, and most importantly, had the superior defense.

With three titles in the past four years, the team justifiably could be considered a dynasty.

“When this league was founded, it was founded on the idea of parity," explained Donovan.  "The league does everything in its power to ensure parity.  So, when you have a team that wins three titles in four years, it’s pretty special. When you put it in that context, it’s not like we are Manchester United or Chelsea won three out of four years. We aren’t the Yankees who won’t three out of four years. We aren’t the Celtics or the Lakers who won three out of four years. We are team that has the same rules as everyone else has. That’s a huge credit to Phil, Dan Beckerman, Chris Klein, Bruce Arena for being able to do that. So, when you put it in that real context it’s a lot more special that just winning three out of four.”

Notable Observations from this Game

1.  Donovan ends his career in storybook-like fashion

Only in a fairytale would the results of today's match have ended any better for Landon Donovan. Ideally, he could have scored the match winner and earned the Finals MVP award before hanging up his cleats, but ultimately his team won and his performance was commendable.

Many would be justified in believing that Landon Donovan is not quite at the level he was at just two years ago, when he proved his worthiness while enjoying both domestic and foreign success.

Regardless, in the 2014 MLS Cup finals, Donovan was the one of the few to overcome the butterflies that only a championship match can bestow upon a professional athlete.

In the end, Donovan bid farewell to professional soccer, winning a record sixth MLS Championship title.

Perhaps the first player on either side to overcome his match nervousness, Donovan displayed fine poise and skill while creating numerous scoring chances for his team in the first half.

In the 39th minute, when there was no shortage of sloppy and unorganized play from both teams, Donovan turned a sudden counter attack into a near goal-scoring opportunity. After intercepting and gracefully carrying the ball into the Galaxy attacking third, he played a nice through ball to Zardes, whose left-footed shot went just wide of the near post.

With that play, the Galaxy displayed the rhythm that they needed to overcome their slump. For the remainder of the game, Donovan -- the MLS’ all-time leading goal scorer and leader in individual championships -- created chances, shots, and kept possession well.

A well deserved successful ending for the player who has been the face of American soccer throughout his career.

“There is no experience like what just happened," said Donovan.  "If you work a desk job or a 9 to 5 job there is no experience where you get to feel that. I can’t imagine that anything can replace that and that is why I think a lot of athletes struggle after they retire because you can’t get that back. I have to be aware of that and find other things that I am passionate about.”

2.  League MVP Robbie Keane proves the MVP voters right by coming through in the end

Improving his numbers each year that he has been in the MLS, Irish international star Robbie Keane recovered from an uncharacteristically slow start in this game, to score the game-winner and ensure that he also receive a 2014 MLS Cup MVP award to go along with his season MVP honor.

“Robbie is been unbelievable since he stepped foot in MLS," said Arena.  "I’ve been on record, I’ve said this, it’s very rare that an international player can step into this league, be adjusted instantly and not explain to us how you are supposed to do things and how it’s done elsewhere. I’ve never heard one “this is how they do it at Liverpool or Tottenham.” He’s bought into Major League Soccer from the start. He’s our greatest advocate. It’s been fabulous. Look of what we’ve done since we’ve acquired Robbie."

3.  Lee Nguyen shows why he was League MVP runner-up

In a game that started with all players on the field showing an inability to keep possession, build chemistry, and connect with teammates, Nguyen displayed composure and skill while maintaining possession, creating chances, and giving Galaxy opponent Juninho a difficult time.

Prior to coming off with leg cramps, he was perhaps the lone Revolution player demonstrating an ability to generate quality offense. Had he played with a defense more capable of slowing the Galaxy attack, Nguyen would likely have benefited by setting up able finishers such as Davies, Tierney, Bunbury, and Kelyn Rowe. The Revolution will surely look to improve their defense during the offseason.

4.  Young star Omar Gonzalez earns his paycheck as an elite defender

Some may have questioned the Galaxy’s decision to pay Gonzalez in excess of $1.5 dollars annually for the next three years, however, the first ever American defender to become a designated player proved his worth with Sunday's performance and silenced critics.

The key to the Galaxy’s victory today was their defense, and Gonzalez was the driving force behind their success. Shutting down the Revolution’s attack time after time to the point of frustration, Gonzalez showed he is the best defender in the MLS, capable of anchoring not only a MLS championship team, but perhaps more importantly, a U.S. Men’s National Team into the foreseeable future.

Other notable performances were Revolution defender Andrew Farrell, Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, Galaxy defender Leonardo, and Revolution midfielder Jermaine Jones.

Scoring Summary

LA – Gyasi Zardes (Assisted by Stefan Ishizaki) 52’
NE – Chris Tierney (Assisted by Patrick Mullins, Jose Goncalves) 79’
LA – Robbie Keane (Assisted by Marcelo Sarvas) 111’

By Adrian Yeung
Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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