It may not have been the best display of soccer over the course of 120+ minutes, but it had its moments. The counter-attack that put the Galaxy on top 1-0 was pure class as Beckham slotted a great ball to a streaking Donovan who lifted a perfect cross to the back post and an on-rushing Mike Magee.
In the end, Real Salt Lake, the better and more fit team, took home the MLS Cup in a dramatic penalty shoot-out (5-4) after overtime concluded with score still knotted at 1-1. Again, it was RSL keeper Nick Rimando coming up big in another penalty shootout in a performance that earned him the MLS Cup MVP.
Almost as surprising as Real Salt Lake winning the MLS Cup was the penalty kick that Landon Donovan sailed over the cross-bar in the shoot-out. Ultimately, Lando’s miss wasn’t the difference as Galaxy (back-up) GK Josh Saunders’ brilliant stop on the try by RSL’s Andy Williams pushed the shootout into sudden death. Two rounds later, Robbie Russell banged home the winner after Cup MVP Rimando stopped Edson Buddle’s attempt and the RSL championship dog-pile commenced on the penalty spot.
For all the “new” ESPN technology the best innovation (at least I haven’t noticed it before) was the microphone placed in the goal that picked up the sweet sound of the ball hitting the netting during the PKs.
Major storylines coming out of the game will be the big injuries — Ricketts, Gonzalez, Morales, Johnson — the (fake) turf that was noticeably slick and the war of attrition down the stretch in extra time. Also, TSG expects that sometime tomorrow morning MLS and ESPN will finally stop talking about the Seattle soccer faithful and the success of the Sounders, although 46,011 fans in attendance was impressive.
TSG was most interested in tracking RSL and USMNT-hopeful striker Robbie Findley…and he did not disappoint. Findley’s patience, speed and play-making ability were all on display. Perhaps most impressive were his recognition and ability to hold the ball to maximize the opportunity and his sustained effort whistle-to-whistle.
Though it would have been nice to see more of his chances put on-frame, Findley was johnny-on-the-spot to bury home the equalizer in the 64th minute and generally wrecked havoc all over the Galaxy backline.
Any excitement about the speedy striker needs to be tempered by the overall quality of MLS. Consider that one of the guys distributing the through-balls for Findley, mid-fielder Kyle Beckerman, is an MLS All-Star, but struggles on the international stage.
It’s clear that Findley is a difference-maker in the MLS, but until he gets some run with the big boys we won’t know how his speed and skill-level translates to the international level and “gel” with the USMNT. That being said, it may not have been a bad thing that Findley missed the recent round of USMNT friendlies as service to the strikers was poor at best and the run to the title gave Findley some valuable experience in high-pressure matches.
Robbie Findley may not be the answer for the USMNT in South Africa, but USMNT fans should look forward to watching Bob-O explore the possibility in the coming months.