Los Angeles Soccer: MLS Cup 2011
President Obama teased David Beckham and Robbie Keane, recognized Landon Donovan as someone “who has done more for American soccer than just about anybody” and praised the Galaxy for having “lived up to hype” as he honored the MLS Cup champions Tuesday at the White House.
The president's rollicking address, which betrayed more than a passing knowledge of the game and the team, offered a nice respite for the struggling champions, who are 3-5-2 and haven't won in their last four games.
Instead, the focus was on last year, when the Galaxy romped to Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield, setting a post-shootout era points record in the process, and swept through the playoffs to win their third MLS Cup title, to go with their 2002 and 2005 triumphs.
“It's an amazing tradition to have, for teams to be able to come here," Beckham told media covering the event. "Because you come out meeting the president, and it's motivation -- it motivates you to want to come back next year. I hope we do, because it's a great day, a proud day for all of us.”
Obama regaled a gathering in the East Room -- moved from the South Lawn because of a thundershower threat -- with jokes at the expense of L.A.'s two biggest foreign stars, recounted their title triumph last Nov. 20 over the Houston Dynamo, and applauded head coach Bruce Arena for taking the Galaxy “from worst to first in just four years.”
“The truth is, in America, most professional soccer players have the luxury of being able to walk around without being recognized,” the president noted. “But not these guys. This is the Miami Heat of soccer. And together, they represent one of the most talented lineups that MLS has ever seen.”
“It makes you realize that people care, people take notice,” Donovan said afterward. “At the end of the day, we’re just playing a soccer game, so I get it, there are a lot more important things going on in the world. But it’s still cool to know that you inspire people and people care about what you’re doing.”
The Galaxy ate it up on an emotional afternoon that featured a brief reunion with goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who is in MLS's substance-abuse treatment program and had been away from the team since April 27.
“It was very nice to see Josh,” Donovan said. “We're all very much encouraged to see him and see how he's doing. I know it was a big deal for him, and I think we're all really excited that he could be a part of it.”
Several figures on last year's championship team weren't invited to be part of the ceremony. Only current Galaxy players and coaches who were with the club in 2011 were honored -- newcomers sat with the audience -- and not everybody was pleased about that.
Midfielder Chris Birchall, so key in the second-leg victory over New York in the first round of the playoffs but now with the Columbus Crew, took to his Twitter account to express his unhappiness Thursday night, also mentioning retired defender Frankie Hejduk, who is now with Columbus' front office.
Here is a transcript of President Obama's remarks Tuesday at the White House honoring the Galaxy's MLS Cup championship:
“Thank you. (Applause.) Everybody, please have a seat. Have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House, everybody. And congratulations to the L.A. Galaxy on your third MLS Cup. (Applause.) Number three.
“Before we start, I want to acknowledge an L.A. native and my outstanding secretary of Labor -- I don't know how her game is, but she's a fan. Hilda Solis is here. (Applause.) We’ve got some proud members of the California delegation, the House of Representatives who are here. We're thrilled to have them.
“I’m not going to flatter myself by assuming these cameras are for me. (Laughter.) I want to thank the Galaxy for letting me share in the spotlight. (Laughter.) The truth is, in America, most professional soccer players have the luxury of being able to walk around without being recognized. But not these guys. This is the Miami Heat of soccer. (Laughter.) And together, they represent one of the most talented lineups that MLS has ever seen.
“You’ve got Robbie Keane, all-time leading scorer of the Irish national team. (Applause.) Cousin of mine. (Laughter.) Robbie arrived halfway through last season, scored his first goal in the first 21 minutes of his first game. His teammates were so happy to have him that they filled his locker with what they called the “pleasures of Ireland” -- Guinness, Bailey’s, and Irish Spring. (Laughter.) Hopefully, Robbie has broadened their horizons a little bit since then.
“We also have a young up-and-comer on the team, a guy named David Beckham. (Laughter.) I have to say I gave David a hard time -- I said half his teammates could be his kids. (Laughter.) We're getting old, David. Although you're holding up better than me. (Laughter.)
“Last year, at the age of 36, David had his best year in MLS, leading the team with 15 assists. He did it despite fracturing his spine halfway through the season, injuring his hamstring the week before the championship game. He is tough. In fact, it is a rare man who can be that tough on the field and also have his own line of underwear. (Laughter.) David Beckham is that man. (Laughter.)
“And then there’s the captain, Landon Donovan (applause) who has done more for American soccer than just about anybody. Landon’s eye for the net, his will to win are legendary, and once again, he stepped up when his teammates needed him most.
“After going undefeated at home last season, the Galaxy was struggling in the cold and rainy championship match. But then, in the 72nd minute, David headed the ball to Robbie, who made a perfect pass to Landon, who chipped in the game-winner. And that set off an all-night celebration in L.A. -- although my understanding is that David had to get up for carpool duty at 8 a.m. (laughter), so his day was ending a little early.
The Galaxy are giddy over what awaits them Tuesday, even those who've experienced this sort of thing before. Like A.J. DeLaGarza.
The fourth-year defender was honored at the White House in 2005, after his University of Maryland soccer team won an NCAA championship. Tuesday's visit with President Obama, to fête L.A.'s MLS Cup championship last fall, will be even better, he says.
“Not a lot of people get to do this, meet the president of the United States,” DeLaGarza, who grew up in nearby Bryans Road, Md, said in audio the Galaxy made available to ESPN Los Angeles. “I was fortunate enough my freshman year at college to meet [George W.] Bush with all the other teams that won [collegiate] national championships in the fall that year. ... This is a little bit more special than my college experience, because I was sharing with hundreds of student-athletes, but this is just L.A. Galaxy, so it's special.
“It's a great experience, something we'll never forget.”
The Galaxy arrived in Washington following its 1-1 draw Saturday afternoon at Montreal, and the players who didn't travel, along with some of the club's staff, joined the group Monday. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who is away from the team in Major League Soccer's substance-abuse treatment program, will join up Tuesday with a “representative from the program” before returning to his treatment facility Tuesday night.
It's enough to take their minds off this weekend's test -- Saturday's SuperClasico against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center -- at least for a few moments.
“To be honored at the White House hits you on so many levels,” said associate head coach Dave Sarachan, who was part of the D.C. United team that visited Bill Clinton in 1999 and was with the U.S. World Cup team that received a phone call from Bush in 2002. “Obviously, one is we're the champions, and having that crown from last year is still a proud moment for the L.A. Galaxy. But clearly the tradition in this country of honoring champions at the White House doesn't come around very often in a coach's career and the players' careers. We're all very humbled and honored for the opportunity.”
Defender Sean Franklin was asked what he planned to tell Barack Obama.
The Galaxy are in Montreal for Saturday's Major League Soccer match against the Impact and will head from Quebec to Washington for Tuesday's ceremony, a club spokesman said. The Galaxy are expected to announce the visit later Thursday.
The Galaxy won their third MLS Cup title in November, beating the Houston Dynamo 1-0 in the final at Home Depot Center after capturing their second straight Supporters' Shield with a league-best 19-5-10 regular-season record. They also won MLS Cup championships in 2002 and 2005.
The Galaxy are off to a 3-5-1 start this season and are seventh in the nine-team Western Conference.
UPDATE (8:55 p.m.): The Galaxy announced the visit Thursday night. The president will honor the team at 11:05 a.m. PT on the South Lawn, and first lady Michelle Obama will be host for a “Let's Move!” soccer clinic to follow.
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.
No guarantee, of course, that the Galaxy will be there, but if you want to see MLS Cup 2011 in person, tickets are now on sale.
The Nov. 20 match at Home Depot Center is sure to sell out before we know who will be battling, but the Galaxy -- which at 12-2-9 have the league's best record -- aren't a bad bet for Major League Soccer's annual showcase.
MLS's championship has been played in L.A. on four previous occasions -- 1998 at the Rose Bowl and 2003, 2004 and 2008 at HDC -- and the Galaxy has fallen short each time.
Tickets, previously available only to Galaxy season ticket-holders, start at $30, with $250 field seats for those with lots of cash. They can be bought through Ticketmaster.
Tim Leiweke wasn't lying. Major League Soccer's championship game is, indeed, coming to L.A.
MLS made it official Tuesday, announcing that MLS Cup 2011 will be played Nov. 20 at Home Depot Center in Carson, the fourth time the venue has staged the game and the fifth time it has been played in Southern California.
Leiweke told a preseason gathering of fans at the ESPN Zone at L.A. Live that the game was returning to the Southland.
“It is set up well where we might happen to have a certain championship in a certain city we all know and love,” Leiweke said on March 11. “So it would certainly be a good Cup, that we have a chance to finish [a championship season] here.”
The Galaxy have played in a record six MLS Cup finals, winning in 2002 and 2005, but none of the games were in L.A. Chivas USA has never reached an MLS Cup title game.
Leiweke prefaced his remarks at ESPN Zone with: “Have we announced it yet?” Told no, he said: “Then I can't announce it. … I can do anything I want, because then the commissioner can yell at me, right?”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in April that “Leiweke would like MLS Cup at Home Depot Center” but that negotiations to place the game were still underway.
The game will kick off at 6 p.m. and be televised by ESPN and Galavision.
The four previous L.A. finals:
- 1998/Rose Bowl: Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0
- 2003/HDC: San Jose Earthquakes 4, Chicago Fire 2
- 2004/HDC: D.C. United 3, Kansas City Wizards 2
- 2008/HDC: Columbus Crew 3, New York Red Bulls 1
Commissioner Don Garber, attending the Galaxy's home opener, acknowledged that the league is in negotiations with Galaxy owners Anschutz Entertainment Group to play this year's title game at Home Depot Center but that “we're not finalized yet.”
AEG President/CEO Tim Leiweke told a gathering at the Galaxy's annual fan luncheon March 11 at L.A. Live's ESPN Zone that “we might happen to have a certain championship in a certain city we all know and love” with a “chance to finish [a championship season] here.”
AEG-owned Home Depot Center has staged the 2003, 2004 and 2008 MLS Cup finals.
“I think [Leiweke] would like to see it here,” Garber told media at halftime of L.A.'s 1-1 draw with New England at HDC. “It's not yet decided, but Tim's always good for comments that get us excited on the press side and me frustrated on my end, but we're hoping to get an announcement for MLS Cup soon.”
AEG chief Leiweke was expressing his hope that L.A. would capture the MLS Cup title this season after falling just short the last two seasons, when acknowledged it would be nice to win the trophy at home.
“It is set up well where we might happen to have a certain championship in a certain city we all know and love,” Leiweke told a gathering in ESPN Zone at L.A. Live. “So it would certainly be a good Cup, that we have a chance to finish [a championship season] here.”
Leiweke did not say so, but the game, which will be played in November, would almost certainly be staged at AEG-owned Home Depot Center in Carson, site of the 2003, 2004 and 2008 MLS Cup title games. The 1998 final was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Leiweke acknowledged that Commissioner Don Garber might not be pleased he was divulging the news, prefacing it: “Have we announced it yet?” And, told no: “Then I can't announce it. … I can do anything I want, because then the commissioner can yell at me, right?”
Garber, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the substance of Leiweke's remarks, but MLS director of communications Will Kuhns said the league was “close to finalizing a site for MLS Cup … and hope to announce the details in the near future.”
A league official said an announcement was expected in the next month.
Tom Payne, the Galaxy's president of business operations, told the audience: “I think [Leiweke] might have leaked a bit of information, and it's something we hope we can announce here in the coming weeks.”
Leiweke had not been expected to attend the luncheon, and Payne wasn't anticipating he'd talk about the site for the 16th MLS Cup.
“I don't know that it's been finalized,” Payne later told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “Our staff doesn't even know. … But if he says it, I guess it has to happen.”