Armchair Analyst: What made the 2011 LA Galaxy special

EDITOR'S NOTE: Every day at 8 pm ET, full-match replays of MLS Classics will be released in their entirety on YouTube, Facebook, MLSsoccer.com, and the official MLS app (check out the full schedule). Among the MLS Classics: the star-studded 2011 LA Galaxy get their first chance to give David Beckham his first MLS title. Watch it on Thursday night at 8 pm ET.


There are two universally acknowledged, "that was definitely a dynasty" dynasties in MLS history. The first was the 1996-1999 D.C. United side who won three of the first four MLS Cups, two Supporters' Shields (both for Shield-MLS Cup doubles), a US Open Cup, a Concacaf Champions Cup and the 1998 Copa Interamericana – a competition that should definitely be revived – against that year's juggernaut of a Copa Libertadores winner, Vasco da Gama.

D.C. were great. You could drop that starting XI into MLS right now and they'd compete at or near the top of the league (though their relative lack of depth would kill them over the course of a year), and would do so playing stylish soccer.

The second was the 2009-2014 LA Galaxy, the Beckham/Donovan/Keane years. In 2009, they were runners up for both the Shield and MLS Cup. In 2010 they won the Shield, and in 2011 they won both. In 2012 and 2014, they won MLS Cup again.

If you force me to choose a best team from that run, it's easy: the 2014 side that caught fire as soon as Landon Donovan was cut from the USMNT ahead of that summer's World Cup and proceeded to steamroll through the rest of the season. From May 21 through October 4, they went 15-2-6 with a +34 goal differential. Only three teams have ever done better than +34 over the course of a full season, and only one of those – 2017 Toronto FC – won the Shield and the Cup (they won their domestic cup, the Canadian Championship, as well).

The Galaxy took that tear into the postseason, battering Real Salt Lake, 5-0, in the first round, getting past that year's Shield winners, the Seattle Sounders, in the Western Conference final, and then beating a very, very good New England team in MLS Cup. That 2014 Galaxy team was probably the best MLS team of the 2010s Galaxy dynasty, and probably the best team of the entire pre-TAM era.

But they weren't the most accomplished. The most accomplished team of that dynasty was the 2011 group who did, in fact, do the Shield/Cup double, and did, in fact, do so while picking up 67 points from 34 games – a mark that was second all-time as recently as three years ago, and is still in the top five.

That Galaxy team, which had peak Donovan, David Beckham in his second-to-last year and Robbie Keane for the final third of the season, was not the attacking beast you'd have expected.

They scored 48 goals that season. Here's the list of subsequent MLS Cup champions who scored more goals than that:

  • All of them

Here's the list of subsequent Supporters' Shield champions who scored more goals than that:

  • All of them

Here's the list of 2019 playoff teams who scored fewer goals than that:

  • D.C. United
  • RSL

For that 2014 Galaxy team, during that remarkable five-month run, they produced 10 multi-goal wins and scored more than a single goal 16 times. The 2011 Galaxy team, over the course of the entire season, had just seven multi-goal wins and scored more than a single goal 12 times.

The thing is, though, that 2011 Galaxy team conceded just 28 goals on the year. Here is the list of subsequent MLS Cup champions who allowed fewer goals than that:

  • None of them

Here's the list of subsequent Supporters' Shield champions who allowed fewer goals than that:

  • None of them

The 2011 Galaxy knew exactly what they were about, and in a word it was "defense." They registered 12 one-goal wins during the regular season, nine of them by 1-0. Then they opened up the playoffs with a 1-0 win over the Red Bulls, and closed the playoffs with a 1-0 win over the Dynamo in MLS Cup. They scored seven goals total in the playoff run: three by Donovan (two penalties), and four by Mike Magee. That's it – Keane did not get on the scoreboard.

So if you're looking through the record books and wondering why no one really brings up the 2011 Galaxy as one of the all-time greats despite doing the Shield/Cup double, despite averaging nearly 2 points per game and despite having a number of the best players this league has ever seen... there you go. The late '00s and early '10s were the grimiest, grittiest, most defensive era in this league's history, and that year's Galaxy team was the best there was at that part of the game.

It's hard to write poetry about that, but it's not hard to appreciate it. Defense still does win championships.

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