By Ridge Mahoney
The David Beckham Era in MLS ended as he and his teammates were showered with confetti after beating Houston, 3-1, at Home Depot Center in MLS Cup 2012.
Here's a few thoughts in the aftermath of the Galaxy victory which marks only the third time in league history a team has won back-to-back titles.
GALAXY'S COMEBACK PERSONA. On its way to the 2011 crown the Galaxy didn't often need to rally. It featured the league's stingiest defense and won 11 league and playoff games by a 1-0 margin.
This year it came back from a poor start (3-8-2) to the season to qualify for the postseason as the fourth-place Western Conference team and rallied in three of its four playoff phases, starting with a 2-1 defeat of Vancouver in the wild-card game that it had trailed, 1-0. In the Western Conference semifinals, it lost the first leg at home to San Jose, 1-0, then spanked the Quakes with three first-half goals en route to a 3-1 win and 3-2 aggregate triumph.
It capped off the postseason by blasting three goals past keeper Tally Hall, two of them from the penalty spot, after conceding a goal to Calen Carr in the 44th minute. Defender Omar Gonzalez, at fault for playing Carr narrowly on-side when the Houston forward scored, equalized with a looping header from a Juninho cross in the 60th minute, Landon Donovan converted the winner five minutes later, and Robbie Keane put away a penalty kick he won himself in stoppage time.
"That's the character of our team," said goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who returned in May after sitting out a month undergoing league-mandated behavior treatment and rebounded from letting in a bad goal against San Jose in the first leg. "It's just that belief. That's the character of our team. We know what it takes to be a champion. We never stopped believing, we never gave up, and we pulled together when times were tough."
Said defender Sean Franklin, "A lot of people were doubting us when we were last in the West but that was two or three months into the season. We know it's a long season, we knew we had plenty of games to get back into it. Everyone who doubted us, they know what they can do."
OMAR THE MAGNIFICENT. The most impressive comeback was that of Gonzalez, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee after colliding with defender Timmy Chandler during his first day of training with German club Nuremberg in February.
The Galaxy defense creaked and the team struggled in his absence but upon his return it got back on course. Beginning with his return to the starting lineup, the Galaxy's record with Gonzalez was 10-5-3 (regular season and playoffs).
"He's a warrior," said left back Todd Dunivant. "Those are difficult things to return from but he's played at a high level. He hasn't dropped off and I think that's the difference. He was his old self and scored a huge goal for us. If he doesn't score that goal, who knows how the game turns out?"
GOING OUT IN STYLE. The setting for Beckham's last game in MLS didn't lack for spectacle. Posters and banners praising him dotted the record crowd of 30,510, he hit several raking passes and dangerous free kicks, and the skies cleared in the second half following several days of rain.
Sunlight bathed the field in the second half and seconds before the final whistle, head coach Bruce Arena made a substitution. Beckham came off to a thunderous ovation. During the postgame awards ceremony, he stood on the hastily constructed stage wrapped in an American flag. His sons, wearing Galaxy jerseys -- they that read "DADDY" instead of "BECKHAM" -- raced around the Galaxy locker room as the players drank and sprayed beer and champagne.
Beckham leaves MLS as player with back-to-back titles and the powerful memories of a league transformed during his tenure.
"It's been a successful six years here, and now that we've won the second one, it's even more satisfying,'' Beckham said. "I just hope people have enjoyed me playing here. It's what I always hope for when I step on the field.''