Who says Los Angeles can’t win a pro football championship?
It just did, Sunday night in a poncho-filled bandbox in Carson, so chilly the players’ breaths appeared in puffs, so soggy their socks were caked in mud.
Folks in this country call it soccer, but, goodness, this was football, powerful and passionate, players fighting through the Home Depot Center muck while thousands serenaded them with streamers and songs, throaty voices rising above the tempest and eventually landing somewhere deep in the Galaxy.
Yeah, our funky little soccer team just won a big whopping title. With its movie-star roster running a play that could only have been designed in Hollywood, the Galaxy won its third Major League Soccer championship with a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup.
It wasn’t Staples Center, these weren’t the Lakers, but the energy, angst and eventual joy shared by a part of this community that is bigger than you think was just as real. Under the final sprinkles of a daylong rainstorm, in steadily dropping temperatures, the Galaxy failed for more than an hour against the outmanned Dynamo before finding its soul in a single perfect moment.
It was about David Beckham heading a ball to Robbie Keane, who turned it into a perfect pass to Landon Donovan, who chipped it in for the eventual game-winning goal in the 72nd minute to set off a celebration that rocked a stadium with a splendidly appropriate L.A. moment.
Yes, the champions in a city of stars were crowned by the team’s three biggest stars, a group whose combined salary this season of $12.2 million is more than the salaries of the entire Dynamo team combined.
Twenty minutes later, it was all sparklers, and confetti, and the usual Queen song, and the unusual Donovan leading the crowd in cheers, the messy pitch becoming a theater awash in joy and redemption both real and imagined.
The real redemption occurred with the Galaxy team itself, which had compiled the league’s best record in the last three seasons, and was carrying a 23-match home unbeaten streak, all without a title to show for it.
“This is a damn good year, it really is,” Coach Bruce Arena said.
A second bit of real redemption belongs to the team’s owner, Phil Anschutz, for whom the deck was stacked in this championship because he also owns half of the Dynamo.
For all the praise that Anschutz has received for building Staples Center, and for all the promise he carries for Los Angeles’ proposed new NFL stadium, he has taken huge heat here for being a lousy sports owner. Not only had the Galaxy underachieved, but his hockey Kings have continually rewarded their loyal fans by melting the ice underneath them.
This championship makes one think perhaps he is tired of running teams like a real estate salesman, perhaps he is finally getting serious about winning, an important hint considering this is the man who might eventually be the majority owner of the Lakers one day.
“When we built [the Home Depot Center] nobody said it would work, nobody thought the league would last, nobody thought anybody would come,” said Tim Leiweke, Anschutz’s foreman who also deserves plenty of cheers here. “This makes me happiest of all the things we’ve been involved in because we had to work the hardest.”
Finally, Sunday, there was the somewhat imagined redemption of the player who started the winning push, our beloved Becks, the world’s most popular soccer player who has probably played his final game at the Home Depot Center in a Galaxy uniform.
In the fifth year of a five-year contract that was mostly filled with empty promise — not to mention an empty locker — Beckham can forever say that at least he left us with a championship. And, believe me, after the game, he was saying it.
“I’ve wanted to be successful for five years for the Galaxy and tonight, I’ve finally done that,” said Beckham, adding, “It’s always nice to have doubters along the way. It’s always nice to prove them wrong.”
Certainly this title will soften Beckham’s legacy here, but did Sunday night really prove doubters wrong? When he was paid $32.5 million to change the face of soccer in Los Angeles and barely hung around long enough to change his socks?
Beckham helped bring this town a soccer title, but he was supposed to help bring it an entire soccer movement, and he never even tried.
Give him a bit of Sunday’s joy, but give the rest to the other Galaxy players who connected with the fans and community such that when they won, it truly felt like the 30,000 people had just won with them.
“The actual goal doesn’t mean a whole lot to me,” Donovan said. “The goals come and go but the moment the whistle blew is what I’ll remember.”
Remember the whistle. Remember the roar. There are many passionate fans in this town who have spent 16 often frustrating years roaming the Galaxy. On Sunday night, they found home.