Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
The Galaxy have had some sensational years since they first kicked a ball back in 1996. That inaugural season was something, and '98, too, and '99, the titles in 2002 and '05, the 2009 turnaround.
Nothing like what they experienced in 2011.
L.A. won everything that matters, did everything they sought to do, and they did so in a spotlight that shone more brightly than any had illuminated Major League Soccer's first 15 seasons. They did so with charm, grit and verve through superb efforts by superstars and role players all orchestrated by America's best coach -- Bruce Arena -- doing his best work.
The Galaxy romped to their second straight Supporters' Shield, the regular-season championship, setting a post-shootout era points record with 63 (from a 19-5-10 record), then swept four playoff matches -- with a masterful performance before the home fans to beat Houston in the final -- to claim the franchise's third MLS Cup championship. Through one four-month, 20-game stretch, they lost just one league game.
From August on, they pressed through the best quartet in the CONCACAF Champions League's second stage, capturing the Group A title with dramatic, must-win victories over Mexico's Morelia and at Motagua in Honduras. They'll be big favorites in their quarterfinal series against Toronto FC in March.
They tied an MLS single-season mark with 17 shutouts, with two more in the playoffs and three in the Champions League, despite season-long injury struggles that sidelined nearly every major player at some point and played particular havoc at the back.
The stars came up huge. David Beckham, drawing greater attention in the final season of his five-year contract, was magnificent at the center of the Galaxy's attack. Landon Donovan netted 17 goals in all despite a quad injury that slowed him considerably the final three months of the season. Robbie Keane's August arrival, accompanied by Juan Pablo Angel's departure, provided a quality finisher with great vision and a knack for opening up the tightest spaces.
Center back Omar Gonzalez emerged as MLS's best defender, and he won the award that says so. Left back Todd Dunivant enjoyed his finest pro campaign and joined the tall Texan (plus Beckham and Donovan) in MLS's Best XI team of the season.
The lieutenants were just as good.
Mike Magee netted 15 goals in all, three in successive playoff games, a streak topped only by 48 minutes (plus stoppage) in the nets after Donovan Ricketts broke his arm and Josh Saunders was red-carded at San Jose. Magee made three big saves, and the Galaxy held on for a 0-0 draw.
Longtime MLS backup Saunders stepped up while Ricketts, MLS 2010 Goalkeeper of the Year, was nurseinghis injuries, winning the No. 1 job, carrying the load through the playoffs and receiving official sanction when Ricketts was traded to Montreal after the title game.
Juninho, in his second (and final) Galaxy campaign, became one of MLS's best two-way midfielders, a perfect complement to Beckham in the middle with a cannon foot. He was the primary hero in the Champions League success.
So many others: do-everything defender A.J. DeLaGarza, first-time all-star Sean Franklin, engine-room midfielder Chris Birchall, hard-working forward Chad Barrett, skilled midfielders Michael Stephens and Paolo Cardozo, veteran leaders Frankie Hejduk, Jovan Kirovski and, doubling as an assistant coach (en route to the head-coach job at Hammarby), retiring center back Gregg Berhalter.
Best MLS team of them all? No argument here.