Our countdown of 2010's top 10 soccer stories and newsmakers -- from a Southern California slant -- continues.
Stories/No. 3: Galaxy's great year
The Galaxy wasn't expected to reach the MLS Cup final last year and did so. Expectations that they would get to the title game, and win it, weren't met in 2010. A step backward?
L.A. started strong, skidded long and rediscovered its best form down the stretch en route to Western Conference and Supporters' Shield titles before a disappointing postseason finish to a trying and exhilarating campaign.
The Galaxy (18-7-5) sprinted at the start, winning 10 games in the first 11 weeks, then needed more than three months to capture five more. They hung on to the top spot as Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and, in the East, New York made late-season charges, then executed a perfect tactical plan to dominate Seattle in the opening round of the playoffs.
Another MLS Cup final might have followed if not for former Galaxy star Kevin Hartman's heroics in the nets for FC Dallas, which routed L.A. in the conference title game en route to an MLS Cup loss to Colorado, which finished fifth in the West, 13 points behind L.A.
The journey was tumultuous. A 10-0-2 start provided a cushion needed when the Galaxy slumped as summer arrived, with quick exits from the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League and just three wins in 12 games against MLS opposition from June 9 through Sept. 4.
The Galaxy absorbed injuries, illness and off-field tragedy, with coach Bruce Arena giving one of the best performances of his career, especially providing confidence to Brazilian midfielder Juninho, who developed into a nearly complete player by season's end, and with deft maneuvers along a hit-and-miss-and-hit-again backline. A.J. DeLaGarza's play in central defense -- partnered with former University of Maryland teammate Omar Gonzalez -- in place of defensive leader Gregg Berhalter down the stretch was a high point of L.A.'s season.
The stars? Landon Donovan, MLS's 2009 MVP, stepped into midfield and played provider more than finisher -- he led the league in assists with 16 -- and Edson Buddle emerged as the league's most dangerous striker, scoring 17 league goals, more than half of them in the first half-dozen games. David Beckham returned from a torn Achilles' tendon at least a month earlier than expected and was closing in on top form as the season closed.
The Galaxy wasn't MLS's best club in 2010 -- Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and New York (when at full strength) were deeper and had more talent through their lineups -- but they had the best campaign, start to finish, and head into 2011 looking to sharpen their attack (with Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel) and add depth in midfield and the backline. The goal, of course, is a championship, and they'll surely be among the chief contenders when the new season kicks off in mid-March.
Newsmakers/No. 3: Edson Buddle
He'd been a pro since 18 and was for a pretty spell a fairly consistent goalscorer in Major League Soccer, but Edson Buddle provided a real glimpse at his potential two years ago, when he scored 15 goals in his first full season with the Galaxy.
Injuries slowed him last year, but Buddle responded with an impressive offseason regimen, and it paid off with a truly breakthrough season in 2010.
The big forward always has had the tools: speed, skill and tremendous athleticism. But a maturing tactical understanding and growing on-field relationship with Landon Donovan enabled Buddle, in his 10th MLS campaign, to reach heights beyond even his expectations.
Buddle, one of the nicest guys in American soccer, scored seven goals in the first four games and nine in the first six, playing the pivotal role as the Galaxy opened a massive advantage in the standings that paid off when L.A. hit a sour spell midway through the season.
Even bigger, the searing start won Buddle a berth on the U.S. World Cup roster and action in two games in South Africa.
He scored 17 regular-season goals -- just missing out on MLS's Golden Boot award -- as the Galaxy won the Supporters' Shield as regular-season champion, then added two more (one an incredible strike) to lead L.A. past Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
He won the Galaxy's MVP and Humanitarian awards and finished second to FC Dallas' David Ferreira in balloting for MLS's MVP honor.