HOUSTON -- The game had long been over, since Bobby Boswell's shot inside the right post less than three minutes into the second half provided the dominant Houston Dynamo a two-goal cushion, but the Galaxy found something to like -- to really, really like -- near the finish of a 3-1 defeat in their regular-season finale Sunday night.
Rookie forward Jack McBean, a 16-year-old high school junior making his first Major League Soccer appearance -- in the starting XI, no less -- took a square ball from Chad Barrett, following Michael Stephens' through ball, with a virtually open net staring him down.
He took a touch, lined up, and fired into the net.
There are a lot more goals due from the teen sensation from Newport Beach, but most of them are still a few years off. This one wasn't beautiful and it meant nothing in terms of the result, but McBean is going to remember this night the rest of his life. So might his teammates.
McBean's strike in the 88th minute was the most visible reward for L.A. (19-5-10) in a match that mattered little but offered a big opportunity to rest key players in advance of next weekend's playoff opener and give some youngsters some first-team action.
Gregg Berhalter called it “something special” and said everyone was “ecstatic on the bench,” and fellow rookie Dan Keat, a midfielder who was impressive in his first MLS start, agreed.
“It's fantastic,” Keat said. “He's a great kid, and he's worked hard since he's come in. Seeing him play in his first game and getting a goal, it's great for him. And, hopefully, he keeps pushing on from here and uses it as a building block for a long career.”
McBean, of course, was thrilled.
“I took that touch, which if I'd missed it, it could have been not the best decision, but, thankfully, it went in,” he said. “I was happy to score, but bittersweet because we didn't get the win.”
McBean has played in MLS Reserve League games and for the Galaxy's Academy sides, and he said playing at the league's top level was “obviously a lot different from the level I'm used to playing in. The atmosphere, the players, everything was a lot more intense, a lot more physical play. It's going to take me awhile to get used to, but to get out there was a lot of fun.”
McBean and Keat weren't the only first-time starters in an L.A. lineup that was missing Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant and a few others sent home after Thursday's CONCACAF Champions League victory in Honduras. Winger Hector Jimenez, a rookie from Bell Gardens, went the full 90 in his second MLS appearance, and Dasan Robinson made his first-team debut after arriving last month in a trade from Toronto FC.
Rookie defender Ryan Thomas, from Claremont, made his MLS debut, coming on in the 76th minute.
And, maybe best of all, Sean Franklin returned from a knee injury that had sidelined him for six weeks, playing the second half -- then declaring that “the knee felt pretty good” and that he was ready for the postseason.
That begins next Sunday at Colorado, Columbus or New York -- whichever is the lowest-seeded survivor from Wednesday's and Thursday's wild-card games.
“I thought tonight it was good experience for some of our young players,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “I thought for us it was good to gt Sean Franklin back on the field -- it's a real positive. And very nice for a 16-year-old to score a goal.”
Houston (12-9-13), needing a win to leap past three clubs into second place in the Eastern Conference -- thus avoiding the wild-card stage and getting a second-leg home game in the first round -- was dominant from the start.
They went ahead on Adam Moffat's 38-yard bomb to the upper-right corner, a brilliant strike, then made it 2-0 at the start of the second half when a Brad Davis free kick fell to Boswell, whose shot from the top of the box found the net when Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was screened on the play by three players.
Honduran star Carlo Costly got the third, slipping behind the backline to nod home a Davis cross for his first goal in MLS.
A quick look at the Galaxy's defeat:
BEST PLAYER: There are a lot of MLS observers calling for Davis to be MLS's MVP this season. We're not among them -- votes are due Tuesday; we're leaning toward Beckham and Seattle's Mauro Rosales at the moment -- but the Houston winger certainly deserves consideration.
Nobody delivers a better ball from the left flank, and only Beckham is a superior crosser in MLS -- and the gap isn't all that massive. Davis' service, his energy on the flank and when he drifted inside, his defensive work, his skill combining and finding teammates with all sorts of balls, not just crosses, was superb.
He was credited with just the one assist, on Costly's header, after an assist on Boswell's goal -- in which Moffat nodded Davis' free kick to the big defender -- was taken away. The one was enough to best Beckham's total, but the league should restore the second assist, giving him 17.
BEST GOAL: No contest. Moffat's rocket was the best goal scored in any game involving the Galaxy this season -- by or against L.A. -- and by a massive margin.
It was just as good, maybe better, than his blast from about the same distance against Portland in August. And it's right there, maybe a shade behind, the two frontrunners for MLS Goal of the Year: Vancouver forward Eric Hassli's chip and volley inside the upper V at the far post against Seattle in June, and Portland rookie Darlington Nagbe's collect-on-the-fly, juggle and blast-a-rising-volley into the upper-left corner against Sporting Kansas City in July.
“I think that's my range,” Moffat quipped. “The guys were saying I should try to place it more.”
It came during a quick sequence in which Houston gave the ball away, it was played forward to McBean, whose attempt to connect with Jimenez was picked off by the Scottish midfielder. The shot itself took a slight deflection off Danny Cruz, so Moffat might lose the goal when the league looks at the tape, and he's OK with that.
“I told Danny,” he said, “at least I'll get an assist.”
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: The Galaxy had a few aims -- the league's points (68, by the '98 Galaxy) and shutout (18, shared with the '00 K.C. Wizards) records -- but this one really didn't matter all that much.
The Supporters' Shield and No. 1 seeding for the playoffs has been in hand for a couple of weeks now, and there's still a glow from Thursday's victory in Honduras, which achieved one of the club's chief goals this season, to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League.
So along with Beckham, Donovan, et al, Arena chose to rest forwards Adam Cristman and Miguel Lopez and midfielders Juninho and Paolo Cardozo. (Only Cristman among that group was not in the 18.)
Jovan Kirovski got the start up front -- his initial position in pro soccer was as a withdrawn forward, remember -- and A.J. DeLaGarza started at left back, moving to the center (with Frankie Hejduk going from right to left) when Franklin came on at halftime.
The reserve lineup couldn't match Houston's intensity, naturally, not with the Dynamo having so much to play for, and created just one reasonable chance, the one McBean put away. Houston, by our count, had a dozen good chances, and maybe half of them were much better than good.
WORTH NOTING: McBean, at 16 years, 10 months, 8 days, became the youngest to play (and, of course, start) in a Galaxy game. The youngest previously to play was Israel Sesay (now with the L.A. Blues), who was 17 years, 9 days, when he played one minute against Chivas USA in September 2007. The youngest to start had been Guillermo Gonzalez, who was 17 years, 9 months, 7 days, when he was in Sigi Schmid's lineup against Kansas City in October 2004. ... The only rookie without top-team experience to miss out was defender Dustin McCarty, who didn't make the trip to Honduras or Texas. Arena said it's because he suffered a previously undisclosed concussion “a few weeks ago,” an injury never mentioned on the league's weekly report. ... Houston coach Dominic Kinnear won his 100th MLS game. “I feel like I'm 100,” he said. ... Celebrating in his office afterward was U.S. national-teamer Stuart Holden, a former Dynamo star from Houston who is rehabbing an injury suffered playing for English Premier League side Bolton.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “You never want to go into games and come out on the short end, but it is what it is,” Arena said. “I think we earned the opportunity through our previous 33 games to give our first-team guys a rest and give some of our young players and some of our players coming back from injury an opportunity.
“As much as I'm disappointed with the final result, I'm pleased that we got something out of it tonight that, hopefully, helps us down the road.”
NEXT: Next weekend (either Saturday or Sunday) at the lower-seeded survivor of the wild-card playoffs (Colorado, Columbus or New York) in the first leg of a first-round playoff series. Time and TV coverage TBA.
Robertson Stadium (Houston)
Houston Dynamo 3, Galaxy 1
H -- Adam Moffat 27
H -- Bobby Boswell (Adam Moffat) 48
H -- Carlo Costly (Brad Davis) 74
LA -- Jack McBean (Chad Barrett, Michael Stephens) 88
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe; Danny Cruz (Colin Clark, 81), Luiz Camargo, Adam Moffat, Brad Davis; Calen Carr (Will Bruin, 76), Brian Ching (Carlo Costly, 63).
Galaxy: Donovan Ricketts; Frankie Hejduk (Ryan Thomas, 77), Dasan Robinson, Gregg Berhalter (Sean Franklin, 46), A.J. DeLaGarza; Hector Jimenez, Dan Keat, Chris Birchall, Michael Stephens; Jovan Kirovski (Chad Barrett, 62), Jack McBean. Unused subs: Paolo Cardozo, Juninho, Miguel Lopez, Brian Perk.
Yellow cards: Hainault 43, Cruz 44, Kirovski 49, Costly 75.
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez. Att.: 30,018.