Real clinches MLS Cup in penalty kicks
Monday, November 23, 2009
SEATTLE -- The backdrop was everything that MLS had dreamt, a pulsating setting that evoked visions of soccer's feverish and sophisticated cauldrons in faraway lands.
On a brisk evening in the league's newest outpost, the drama and tension-- if not the quality of play -- served the championship stage admirably. After a 1-1 draw through regulation and overtime, following the traditional five rounds of a penalty kick tiebreaker, Real Salt Lake prevailed in the seventh phase against the Los Angeles Galaxy before 46,011 at Qwest Field.
Nick Rimando, the former D.C. United goalkeeper who sent Real to MLS Cup with three saves during a tiebreaker in the Eastern Conference final at Chicago, stopped Edson Buddle's attempt and then watched teammate Robbie Russell convert against Galaxy backup Josh Saunders for a 5-4 advantage Sunday night.
The match capped a remarkable month for Real, a fifth-year club that had a 11-12-7 record in the regular season and executed a pair of playoff upsets before upending the slightly favored Galaxy, which was bidding for its third title. With the victory, Real provided the state of Utah its first pro title since the Utah Stars in the American Basketball Association 38 years ago.
"Me and all the guys knew if it came down to penalty kicks, we were confident just going back from last week," said Rimando, who won the title with United five years ago. "I really think we could have won this in regulation -- we were that good in the second half and unfortunate not to get a [go-ahead] goal."
Los Angeles, the top seed from the Western Conference after missing the playoffs three consecutive years, went ahead late in the first half when Mike Magee capped an artful sequence created by the glamorous tandem of David Beckham and Landon Donovan. Real was superior in the second half and drew even in the 64th minute on Robbie Findley's goal.
It was the sixth time MLS Cup had gone beyond regulation, the fifth involving the Galaxy.
Beckham, who will rejoin AC Milan on loan this offseason, received three injections to offset pain caused by a bone bruise in his right ankle/foot. "It wore off after about 15 minutes," he said. As the pain returned, Beckham's influence waned.
Hours earlier, showers gave way to sunshine, the first extended period of pleasant weather in days to create a welcoming setting for pregame merriment. Fans began arriving at King Street Station, the transit stop closest to the downtown venue.
In the streets and parking lots, the predominant color was lime green, worn by supporters from the expansion Seattle Sounders, who set league attendance records. Despite their club's elimination from the playoffs two weeks ago, they turned out in force for the first title game to be played at night.
In the tradition of Seattle home matches, thousands of fans representing the Sounders, the finalists and other clubs paraded from Occidental Park to the stadium. They were joined by MLS Commissioner Don Garber and comedian-actor Drew Carey, a Sounders' investor.
"It's a memorable night for soccer in America," Garber said. "The celebration of the sport in this city has been nothing short of spectacular."