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The first two goals were rather scrappy affairs, but the eventual game-winner was a fitting cap to the season, with a lovely long ball from Marcelo Sarvas splicing open the troubled New England defenses, allowing .On to the result… Result in Brief Meeting for a third time in the post-season finale, Los Angeles and New England outwitted the other seventeen MLS clubs to earn their place in the final. Both sides survived tough playoff brackets – LA moving past Supporters Shield-winners Seattle and perennial contenders Salt Lake; New England through a Thierry Henry-inspired New York after handily dispatching Columbus – to take centre stage in good form. The Revolution were unbeaten in the playoffs, while the Galaxy had allowed just two goals against, keeping clean-sheets in three of their four matches. With the league switching to an uneven schedule, past results offered little by way of instruction, as each had dismissed the other with a five-goal outpouring, New England beating LA at home in 2012 by a 5-0 score-line and the Galaxy returning the favour this year at their ground, dispatching the Revolution 5-1 in a midweek match. The Galaxy had history weighed in their favour, as the two previous meetings between the clubs in the MLS Cup had ended in LA victories, winning both 2002 and 2005 by 1-0 score-lines, each with the winner scored in the extra time session. Further tilting the scales was the fact that LA had not lost at home since opening day, a span of eighteen matches; New England were unbeaten in nine games themselves, insistent they would be no pushovers. As could be expected, the match kicked off in a tentative nature, each side respecting the potential breakaway threat posed by the other. New England struggled a little with nerves from the start, nearly resulted in an own-goal inside of two minutes, as Robbie Rogers was allowed to cut in from the left on a Donovan pass, his shot rebounding off a Revolution defender, requiring Scott Caldwell to alertly clear the danger off the doorstep. Following that early scare, the match settled into a stalemate, neither side giving an inch to their opponent. Big match flutters would again nearly prove costly around the twentieth minute when the Revolution defense once more looked perilously out of sorts as Donovan strolled into the box, but they were able to see out the danger again. The Revolution would draw a vital clearance of their own before half-time, when a direct ball from a corner kick was headed off the line by Marcelo Sarvas and the first half would close with Donovan collecting the final yellow card of his MLS career for slamming into the back of AJ Soares in stoppage-time – the sixtieth booking of his MLS tenure; impressively he never saw a single red card throughout. With the start of the second half, LA came out the better, Stefan Ishizaki sending an effort over the bar before Jermaine Jones was drawn into a bad tackle on Donovan, for which he was lucky to only receive a warning. Juninho too would escape punishment in the subsequent minutes, hacking down Jones in transition before bundling over Lee Nguyen in the LA box. New England would cry for a penalty – perhaps a valid exclamation – but the official would not be moved. That decision proved pivotal, as LA would open the scoring less than a minute later when Ishizaki collected a ball on the right-side of the area, sending a searching cross towards the back-post, where it was met by Gyasi Zardes. The sophomore striker had been ice-cold over the past few months, going the entirety of the playoffs without a tally - his last goal having come at the end of September - but he shook off the semi-formed crystals, settling the delivery and outwaiting two defenders to beat Shuttleworth with a low, right-footer to the right-side of goal: 52nd minute – advantage LA. Stung, New England would make their first change, bringing on the more attack-minded Daigo Kobayashi for Caldwell, but it was Los Angeles would nearly pad their lead. AJ DeLaGarza found some space at the top of the box, but could not get off his shot; Donovan too found a similar position, only for Shuttleworth to collect his weak effort. Foreshadowing the extra time winner, Robbie Keane made a long run to get on the end of a Sarvas ball, but could not produce a finish, the ball getting tangled in his feet, as he overlooked an open Donovan on the overlap, drawing an easy save out of Shuttleworth. Having weathered that storm, replacing Charlie Davies with Patrick Mullins, New England would draw level in the 79th minute when a long ball up the left from Jose Goncalves was corralled by Mullins, who found Tierney on the pull-back, touching past one defender to send a left-footer across Jaime Penedo into the left-side of goal, equalizing the match at ones. And the Revolution would see the winner kiss off the face of the crossbar when Teal Bunbury’s chip from the left froze Penedo, but could not squeeze under the bar. Andy Dorman would replace an injury-troubled Nguyen in stoppage-time – a major blow to the Revs – and Keane would again probe the New England defenses, getting tangled in a race for a long ball with Soares, though the officials determined no foul was committed – once more a Sarvas long ball was the catalyst. Bound for extra time, Bruce Arena made his first substitutions, bringing on Alan Gordon and Dan Gargan for Ishizaki and Rogers – Jay Heaps had already burned through all three of his; the players on the field would have to get the job down for New England. The added frame proved as tense as the first half, neither side allowing for the possibility of mistakes, with an eye on the impending penalty kicks. Another knock, this time to Juninho, would force Arena to make that third sub, replacing the midfielder with Baggio Husidic. Minutes later, Jones, who had been largely subdued by Juninho and Sarvas, dragged a shot from the top of the area wide of the left-post, while LA keeper Penedo was forced to come up big on a Mullins chance, getting down low to parry a shot across him in the 103rd minute after Kobayashi sprung the young striker down the left. In the second frame of extra time, the chances began to fall LA’s way; New England beginning to tire. Shuttleworth bobbled a Gargan long-throw at the near-post, nearly allowing Gordon to turn in the winner and Dorman was called for a handball atop the box, gifting Donovan a chance to play the hero on a free-kick – his effort would sail a little too high to count. Minutes later LA would find their winner – as they had in the previous two finals meetings – when Sarvas’ long ball sprung the ever-charging Keane down the left-channel, behind a slow-turning Soares. Tierney, who had been one of New England’s better contributors, appeared to be the guilty party, keeping Keane onside, was also unable to recover, as the Irish striker slipped a left-footer past Shuttleworth in the 111th minute of play to seal the victory. LA’s previous winners over New England had come in the 105th and 113th minutes – a case of history repeating itself once more for the doomed Revolution, who lost a record fifth-MLS Cup, yet to hoist the end of season reward. Emotions would run high through the final nine-plus minutes that saw three yellow cards as Sarvas put in a bad tackle that drew a confrontation between Gordon and Jones. Soares was then lucky to receive no punishment for his run in with Penedo, helping the keeper to his feet then comically shoving him to the ground as the clock dwindled. With the 2-1 victory, LA would collect that fifth championship, a third in the last four years, as the era of Donovan comes to an end. Donovan would take his sixth title – the most by a player in league history – while Arena navigated to his fifth MLS Cup. Keane, who collected the 2014 MVP for the regular season, would earn the same reward for the final, thanks largely to his late, game-winning strike. Overheard A selection of the best quips from the post-match scrums: New England were not happy with the game-turning non-call, firmly believing it swung the tide against them. Lee Nguyen offered his view of the play in question: “I had it on my left, I cut it back and then [Juninho] came in from behind and pushed me down. It could have gone either way, I guess. He didn’t call it, and we’ve got to move on.” Jermaine Jones was less diplomatic about the affair: “I don’t want to say so much to this referee. You can make a better decision. Maybe the game was too big for him.” While Jay Heaps opted for the more earnest appeal: “To be honest with you, I really thought that was a penalty.” Bruce Arena is not the sort of coach to open up to the media regularly, more often than not measured in his responses. But with this being the final match of Landon Donovan’s career, he waxed lyrical about his star pupil: “Landon has done the real [stuff] in the game. He's done it all. He's got very little left to give, so I'm so happy that he's made this decision. He's able to go out as a winner, and don't we all wish to be able to leave what we do like the way Landon left today, as a winner.” He continued, “So he ends his career ... arguably the greatest player in the history of the US Soccer national team program and in the league the all-time leading goal-scorer, assists, championships. What more can you say? Can you write that any better, that script? So I'm happy for him. He's spent. He's done.” Donovan too reflected on the decision – but not until after a little joke with the assembled media “I was going to wait till the end [of this news conference], but I've decided to come back … I'm just kidding” - “The most important thing for me is that I have to live my life and I have to be happy. I know it’s going to be difficult for some - also in my family; there are some that are very sad. But the most important thing is that I'm sure in what I want to do in my life, and at the moment I feel really good, because I know that this is the right time for me.” Donovan, Arena, and the rest of the Galaxy can spend the coming weeks in a celebration, but for the Revolution the loss was a bitter pill. Charlie Davies explained it thusly. “It’s like someone just took a baseball bat to my gut. It’s really tough to take. I really thought we deserved to cap this season with an MLS Cup.” There’s always next season Charlie and New England will be a force to be reckoned; with the added hunger of defeat urging them forward. See It Live A collection of the best sights from the match, beginning with a pair of Tifos – from the LA faithful and the travelling New England supporters, with one of the best, if awkward, banners of the season. New England made plenty of plays - Scott Caldwell made a vital clearance, while Teal Bunbury nearly found the winner before extra time – but they could not quell the threat of LA; frustration eventually got the better of them, resulting in a confrontation between AJ Soares and Jaime Penedo – to humourous conclusion (and surprisingly no booking). Both keepers were there when called upon – Bobby Shuttleworth standing strong in the face of a Robbie Keane blast and Jaime Penedo getting down low to deny Patrick Mullins the winner. But it was LA who would celebrate with the cup. Controversy The match was not without controversy, as Jermaine Jones avoided a booking for this nasty tackle on Landon Donovan – skating by on a warning, not dissimilar to his high challenge on Dax McCarty in the previous round. Juninho too took his chances with this barge on Lee Nguyen in the Galaxy area; undoubtedly a turning point the match, much to the chagrin of the Revolution. Robbie Keane was also frustrated at times before nabbing the winner – he thought this tangle with AJ Soares required some official involvement at the end of regulation. Upcoming Fixtures Though the 2014 season has come to an end, there are plenty of events in the coming weeks with 2015 just around the corner. From this week’s expansion (December 10), waiver (ditto), and re-entry drafts (December 12 and 18), to January’s Combines and SuperDraft (January 15), soon enough the clubs will be reconvening for preseason. The 2015 schedule is due sometime before January too – with the season kicking off in March. Thanks for following along all season. All video & quotes courtesy of MLSsoccer.com Each week James takes a look at the league as a whole. You can follow James on twitter @grawsee or read more of his writing at Partially Obstructed View
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