By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 14, 2005
FRISCO, Tex., Nov. 13 -- The Los Angeles Galaxy won its second MLS championship in four years Sunday with a 1-0 overtime victory over the New England Revolution and, in the process, helped invalidate an otherwise miserable 6 1/2 -month regular season for its goal-scoring hero and the club itself.
Reserve midfielder Guillermo Ramirez, who had the lowest shooting efficiency in MLS history this year, scored on a wicked 18-yard volley midway through the 30-minute extra session before 21,193 goal-hungry spectators at Pizza Hut Park.
The Galaxy had wobbled through the regular season with a .500 record. It finished ahead of only the two awful expansion teams to claim the lowest seed in a generally poor conference. It failed to win outside of Southern California until visiting RFK Stadium in August.
But by upsetting San Jose in a first-round series and dispatching a weak Colorado side in the Western final, the Galaxy found itself in MLS Cup for the fifth time in the league's 10-year history.
"It was a great finish to a wonderful run," said Steve Sampson, the failed U.S. World Cup coach in 1998 who was hired by the Galaxy last year. "During the playoffs, we finally found our form."
To its credit, Los Angeles deserved to win Sunday. New England, as consistently good as the Galaxy was bad most of the year, was a sluggish mess on the attack. League most valuable player Taylor Twellman didn't receive the ball in dangerous positions and the Revolution's midfield was surprisingly cautious and ineffective.
After narrowly missing three chances late in regulation, including Cobi Jones's bid off the crossbar, the Galaxy turned to an unlikely figure in overtime. Ramirez, a Guatemalan national team veteran, had been a bust in his MLS debut season this year, scoring just one goal on 62 shots -- the worst percentage in league history. (His only goal had come on a penalty kick that deflected off a post and then bounced off the fallen goalkeeper in a late-season match against Colorado.) But on Sunday, after Revolution goalie Matt Reis punched away Landon Donovan's corner kick, Ramirez lashed a right-footed blast through a pack of players.
Unlike previous seasons, when overtime was decided by a sudden-death goal, the Galaxy had to survive another 15 anxious minutes before commencing its celebration.
"I talked to Coach before the game and he asked me to play a little bit more for the team," Ramirez, who had entered in the 66th minute, said through an interpreter. "I said I will, and I did."
Said Donovan: "I would have bet my mortgage that this guy wouldn't have come in and been the one who made the difference. I'm stunned, impressed and extremely happy for him."
Because of his lackluster play, Ramirez had found himself on the bench behind young midfielder Ned Grabavoy when the playoffs arrived. With Grabavoy fading Sunday, Ramirez made his postseason debut.
"He's a player who had great inconsistencies . . . but he found the right time to get it done," Sampson said. "It was a very angry individual during the playoffs, not getting playing time, but when you're winning, it's very difficult to make changes. I just had a feeling he would do well tonight. . . . It was a great strike."
The Revolution, which lost to the Galaxy in overtime in a poorly played 2002 final, finished with just two shots on goal. Galaxy keeper Kevin Hartman denied reserve Jose Cancela in the second half, then, late in overtime, watched teammate Ugo Ihemelu nick Cancela's shot fractionally wide of the far post to preserve the lead.
"We didn't move the ball quickly and they defended well when they had to," New England Coach Steve Nicol said. "We couldn't break them down."
MLS Notes: Joan Laporta, president of European power FC Barcelona, attended Sunday's match and said his club has begun exploring the possibility of purchasing an MLS team. "We would like to be present in all markets in the world, and the States market is a very important market," he said, declining to specify a timeline. . . .
MLS moved closer to expanding into Canada, approving an expansion application from Toronto-based Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment on Saturday.