CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy's early-season travails and second-half resurgence are well-documented, and head coach Bruce Arena called his team's worst-to-first rise a “test of character” Saturday as he toasted its second straight MLS Cup triumph.
“I could write a book now with a five-star general on leadership, having been through the wars this year,” he told media following the Galaxy's 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo. “We have enough talent to win games, and you've just got to really do the best job you can to maximize performance, and we focused on that and did it and got it done.”
The Galaxy were 3-8-2 and at the bottom of the Western Conference table when MLS took a short break for the World Cup qualifiers in early June. They collected 43 points in their final 20 games to snag a postseason berth, then churned through their playoff opposition for the club's fourth MLS Cup title.
“When the season ended last year, we had an endless tour of obligations, and we couldn't put this 2011 season behind us,” Arena said. “And as I look back on it, it finally came to closure when we went to the White House in May.”
An attitude shift at the start of June fueled the about-face.
“I was gone [with the US national team] for a couple weeks, but I got a few phone calls from players, from the coaches saying that something had changed,” captain Landon Donovan said. “And the overwhelming comment was David's demeanor was influencing everybody and he decided at that point he was going to take control.
"I think Robbie, when he got back from the [European Championship] had the same mentality. ... I think we all bought into it, and we got our reward today.”
A June 20 victory at Real Salt Lake was a catalyst, and at the midpoint of the season, Arena gave his players a challenge.
“I showed our guys the math,” he said. “I laid out an equation: We had 17 games left and we had to get 27 to 30 points to make the playoffs. We ended up getting 34. ... We made it clear: That was the target and reminded them every day, and we got to chip away at that and managed to do it.”
The MLS Cup victory might have been the reward, but the payoff isn't done.
“This is going to be a memorable experience for [our players],” Arena said. “Because this is something you can take for the rest of your life on how to face difficult moments. A lot of guys had to dig deep and really figure out what was important, how to focus right, and their priorities and all of that stuff. We faced it ... and it was challenging. And a special group of people were able to do that. Very rewarding.”