Landon Donovan netted a 72nd-minute goal and the Los Angeles Galaxy defeated the Houston Dynamo, 1-0, on Sunday to win the MLS Cup at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The Galaxy earned its third MLS Cup, previously winning in 2002 and 2005.
The Galaxy, which dominated in possession for much of the night, finally broke the stalemate as Donovan's shot actually deflected off of Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall's left glove. But the deflection was not enough to push the ball away from the frame as it rolled inside the right post for the one-goal lead. David Beckham -- perhaps playing in his final MLS match -- and then Robbie Keane set up Donovan's tally.
"Whether I stay or not, I've had an amazing five years," Beckham said to ESPN's Rob Stone following the match. "The fans have been unbelievable. The owners have been unbelievable. The players, every one of them are heroes tonight. We've been incredible all season, and this capped it off."
Los Angeles had more than its share of scoring chances, especially in the first half. Much of the focus in the first 45 minutes was on Galaxy forward Adam Cristman's opportunities.
Cristman, who filled in for former Chicago Fire forward Chad Barrett (dislocated his ankle in training), had three strong chances, starting with a 12th-minute header off of a Beckham corner kick. Cristman was unmarked in the middle of the box, but his header went wide right. In the 27th minute, Cristman's header went over the goal as Beckham set him up. And in the 28th, the Galaxy tried to take advantage of a Dynamo turnover, but Cristman lost his footing on another potential scoring chance. Chris Birchall replaced Cristman early in the second half.
The only first-half strike that went on goal came from the Dynamo's Danny Cruz, whose 44th-minute shot went directly to Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
In the 57th minute, Keane thought he had the game's first goal. But he was ruled offside, even though replays showed that he was level with the Dynamo's Geoff Cameron.
Former Fire forward and Dynamo starter Calen Carr did not show up much in the final third. But he did help in the Houston buildup that eventually led to an Adam Moffat header that went wide right of the goal in the 66th minute. Carr was replaced by Carlos Costly after that sequence.
In the waning moments of the match, Beckham took a free kick about two minutes into second-half stoppage time. Beckham's strike went toward the upper right corner of the frame, but Hall batted the ball aside.
2012 schedule changes benefit Fire: The Fire struggled mightily against Western Conference teams this past season with a 3-8-7 record, compared to a very respectable 6-1-9 mark against their fellow Eastern Conference sides.
The days of a balanced schedule will come to a close with the Montreal Impact joining MLS as the league's 19th team next year. There will be some significant changes within the league in both the regular season and postseason.
The Impact, coached by former Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch, will become the 10th Eastern Conference team. Next year during the regular season, each Eastern Conference side will play a total of 25 conference matches and nine matches against West teams within the 34-game schedule.
Next year's playoffs also will no longer include a neutral championship site, though this year worked out completely in the Galaxy's favor at The Home Depot Center. Moving forward, the championship match will be played at the home venue of the participating team with a higher regular-season points total. Another big playoff change will feature a two-leg series in the Eastern and Western Conference Championships instead of a single match, a format that has been in place for the past nine seasons.
Carolina Challenge Cup schedule set: Recently the Charleston Battery announced the 2012 Carolina Challenge Cup tournament schedule in which the Fire, Columbus Crew, D.C. United and host Charleston are participating.
The Fire open the tournament against D.C. on Feb. 25 (4 p.m. CT kickoff), followed by a match against the Crew on Feb. 29 (4 p.m.) and the Batter on March 3 (6:15 p.m.).