SEATTLE – Bruce Arena simply smiled and savored the moment of proving everyone wrong one more time in his storied career.
In a season when it looked as if the LA Galaxy were going to give up their crown with a whimper – starting the year 3-8-2, getting bounced unceremoniously from the CONCACAF Champions League and showing little interest in playing together as they did for all of 2011 – his team is now just one more victory from retaining their league championship.
“You guys called us dead, like we weren’t going to make the playoffs,” he teased reporters after the Galaxy completed a 4-2 aggregate victory over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday night.
“The last 17 games of the season, we had 34 points,” he pointed out. “Thank God you guys aren’t smart enough to figure that so we could kind of do it quietly and get ourselves going again.”
But it’s been anything but quiet during these playoffs. These Galaxy look not just like the team that dominated from start to finish in 2011, but one better, with impressive triumphs in this postseason under conditions that may have been tougher than anything they faced last year.
POSTGAME: Beckham, Keane, Gonzalez on advancing
They entered the playoffs as a No. 4 seed, and had to rally to win a one-off Knockout Round match at home against a surprisingly game Vancouver side. Then they rebounded from a last-gasp home loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals by throttling the Supporters’ Shield winners in their own house in the second leg.
And then on Sunday night, they held on for dear life as they made a 3-0 aggregate advantage in the Western Conference Championship hold up against a Sounders team that grabbed the momentum early and desperately clung to it.
“We’ve got a bunch of champions in this locker room,” said Landon Donovan, who sat out the match with tightness in his hamstring, “and even though going down a goal, going down a second goal, we were still resilient and got the goal that kind of broke their back.”
There were times earlier in the season, Donovan admitted, where he questioned if LA could even sneak back into the playoffs. But the Galaxy gave their penultimate argument on Sunday, hanging on despite losing the game – only their fourth defeat in their last 25 games through all competitions.
And as a result, the Galaxy got perhaps the most improbable scenario of all when the playoffs started: hosting a second straight MLS Cup, once again against the Houston Dynamo – the only possible matchup that would have allowed them to host the final.
Regardless of how they got there, it feels plenty sweet.
“Every success that the club has is obviously rewarding, whether we’ve done it the easy way or the hard way,” said David Beckham. “Tonight was the hard way, but this season’s been the hard way.”