Sunday afternoon’s MLS finale had all the hype and promise leading up to the match to become a timeless soccer classic. Unfortunately, even given an extra 30 minutes to come up with moments of brilliance, the deciding match ultimately fell short. While the LA Galaxy were victors in Landon Donovan’s final competitive game, and MLS MVP Robbie Keane both scored the winner and took home the MVP honour in the final, the match lacked the quality we have seen throughout the season from both sides, and the handful of impressive moments on the pitch were overshadowed by overall sloppiness and ineffective possession.
The Galaxy saw a very promising start to the game, with Robbie Rogers exploiting the New England Revolution defenders’ sluggishness and coming within inches of opening the scoring less than 5 minutes into the battle. With his chance cleared off the line, the remaining 42 minutes of the first half could accurately be described as a snoozefest, allowing viewers countless opportunities to get up and "use the facilities" or "grab another brew" without missing a single moment of exhilaration. In fact, I personally put together an entire Ikea couch (with my brother’s help) over the course of those 45 minutes, and can honestly say that couch-building proved more stimulating than the entire first half of the final.
To be fair, there WERE a couple noteworthy moments during that initial 45. MLS ambassador and retiree-to-be Landon Donovan had a yellow card shown to him for a flying elbow, prompting countless twitter users to wonder how far he would have to go to draw a second and be expelled from his final MLS game (yeah, right). Marcelo Sarvas also executed a near-perfect slide tackle in the LA box, resulting in an incidental knee to his head that could have ended far worse than it actually did. And in one of the most exciting moments of the opening 45 (around the 23rd minute), New England lone striker Charlie Davies found himself in possession of the ball, side-by-side with AJ Delagarza, sprinting toward the net, only to be dispossessed with one of the finest slide tackles I have ever seen by little AJ.
Alas, the first half yielded an empty scoresheet. From a tactical point of view, New England seemed to be doing well to limit LA’s ability to build up dangerous plays. New England actually led the first half in possession (with 57%), although neither side had much to show for their efforts. While Robbie Keane had been involved in a handful of opportunities, the interplay between him, Zardes, and Donovan was notably absent. What made that especially boring was that New England’s attackers were also out on an early vacation, with Kelyn Rowe nowhere to be seen and even Lee Nguyen barely getting involved in the play. One positive for the Revs, however, was keeper Bobby Shuttleworth’s aggressiveness- there were a couple moments where LA sent balls forward for strikers where the New England keeper rushed out beyond his box to beat the man to the ball and clear the danger. Overall, the first 45 was boring for viewers, frustrating for LA, and just barely satisfactory for New England.
The start of the second half saw Landon Donovan pushed up higher to play more effectively with Keane. According to Bruce Arena’s post-game comments (muttered in-between chugs from a champagne bottle), the idea was largely a Robbie Keane brainchild, and not necessarily of his own thinking. From the very start of the resume of play, it was clear the second half would be more exciting. Jermaine Jones’ flying slide tackle on Landon Donovan (where he bewilderingly was only given a warning), and Lee Nguyen’s penalty shout that was turned down, were both beacons of hope for the countless drowsy viewers. Personally, I’d agree with Geiger on the penalty non-call, with Juninho coming in hard to take the ball from Nguyen, but no clear foul play involved in knocking down the Revs’ MVP candidate. With the non-call, however, LA seemed to wake up, and in true Galaxy fashion they didn’t take long to turn that momentum into the game’s opening goal. In the 52nd minute, Ishizaki sent a ball (from his right wing) across the field to striker Gyasi Zardes, who had no problem outplaying
TFC first round pick Andrew Farrell and converting from a somewhat tricky angle. Zardes’ goal was the first ever MLS Cup goal scored by a homegrown, so… there’s that. Progress march on.
With the first goal scored, New England started to press. The attacker Canadians love to hate, Teal Bunbury, saw a great opportunity on a last-minute header knocked away by MLS Cup rookie Jaime Penedo. Bunbury’s opportunity was followed by a rare moment of Galaxy aggression, with Robbie Keane outdueling defenders to find himself up alone (with LD by his side) against Bobby Shuttleworth. Opting to pull the trigger himself and NOT give Landon his fairy-tale sure-goal moment, Keane failed to put it past the keeper and kept the game within range for the Revs. Keane’s miscue cost dearly. In the 79th minute, Patrick Mullins’ short pass to Chris Tierney was easily converted to tie the match, and Revolution fans were thrilled to have yet another New England team challenging for a championship. It didn’t take long, however, for Shuttleworth to nearly ruin that sentiment, knocking a terrible rebound from a distant shot out into the center of the box in the 81st minute. Luckily the ensuing scramble saw the ball cleared, and Shuttleworth’s gaffe didn’t cost the Revs the game. The final 10 minutes of the second half saw New England pushing aggressively for a winner, with Bunbury even putting one off the post (keeping CMNT fans happy and USMNT fans indifferent). In the 90th minute, MVLee seemed to pick up a knock and was taken off, forcing Jay Heaps to head into 30 minutes of extra time without his best player of 2014.
Extra time was, unfortunately, more of the same. Significant amounts of sloppiness and unrefined play with limited moments of excitement (but not brilliance). Of note, both Alan Gordon and Dan Gargan came on for the Galaxy, allowing TFC fans to chuckle as we continue to see players find more success at ANY other team they move onto. I digress. In extra time, the teams traded chances… but the one player to make it count was the same one who had been doing so all season. Robbie Keane, on a brilliant long ball from Marcelo Sarvas, calmly put the ball past the keeper at around the 111th minute, sealing the victory for the Galaxy.
To New England’s credit, they did create a couple last-ditch efforts at tying the game, namely a Kobayashi miss and decent Penedo save on a Mullins opportunity. But unfortunately the Revs could not overcome fate, and the MLS Cup ended as the Gods intended it to: Landon Donovan walking away with a record 6th MLS Cup, and MLS MVP Robbie Keane sealing the game with an extra-time goal and securing MLS Cup MVP to add to his trophy case.
While the MLS Cup was as uninspiring as the "US Soccer promotion / relegation NOW" banner that flew from the back of a plane commissioned by some millionaire before the match, it was still an entertaining affair, and showed us TFC fans just how far the Reds are from competing for the championship. For even on an off-day at the office for two of the league’s best teams, it’s still difficult to make the argument that TFC would have fared any better had they made it this far. And on that note, let’s eagerly await TFC’s off-season moves, and finally close out an (overall) entertaining and often newsworthy 2014 MLS season. Congratulations Los Angeles Galaxy and best of luck, Lando. Of course it was going to end like this for you.