Some fans in D.C. might argue, and you could always add up the San Jose/Houston trophies to build a pretty big case, but the perennially star-studded Galaxy are looking more and more like the most accomplished team in the league.
Trophies: 1998 Supporters’ Shield, 2000-01 CONCACAF Champions Cup, 2001 U.S. Open Cup, 2002 MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield, 2005 MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup, 2010 Supporters’ Shield, 2011 MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield, 2012 MLS Cup
Fan personality: Expectant. The stars keep rotating through Los Angeles, and they’ll be under pressure to repeat the accomplishments of the last few years.
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Stadium situation: The Home Depot Center is far from downtown but almost glitzy. Now could we keep the turf in decent shape for a whole season, please?
If L.A. fans bought more tickets in advance, the crowd at the Rose Bowl for the Galaxy’s first game might have been 75,000. Or 80,000. Or more. The walkup crowd to see Mexican goalkeeper/forward Jorge Campos, El Salvadoran midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos and U.S. World Cup veteran Cobi Jones – and Melrose Place actor Andrew Shue, who made the team – was simply overwhelming. And the team was first-class from the start, though D.C. United got the better of them in the 1996 and 1999 MLS Cup finals.
But the Galaxy matched United in one respect, winning a CONCACAF trophy. The 2000 Champions Cup stretched into 2001, and the Galaxy won the final at home. That win gave them a berth in the nascent World Club Championship, organized as a 12-team event in which the Galaxy would have faced Real Madrid, but the tournament fell through. Los Angeles is the last MLS team to win the CONCACAF trophy, and no MLS team has played in the scaled-back World Club Championship.
More tournament success followed — the 2001 U.S. Open Cup, then an MLS Cup win at last in 2002 over host New England on a Carlos Ruiz goal. Yet the Galaxy also found the way blocked by future Galaxy star Landon Donovan and the San Jose Earthquakes, who beat the Galaxy in the 2001 MLS final and in a five-goal aggregate comeback in the 2003 playoffs.
After a brief stint in the Bundesliga, Donovan joined the Galaxy in 2005. The regular season was disappointing, but the tournaments couldn’t have been better, with wins in the Open Cup and MLS Cup, the latter on a goal by improbable scorer Guillermo “Pando” Ramirez. Then tragedy struck in 2006 with the death of team president Doug Hamilton, and the shaken team accomplished little that year.
The next event made worldwide headlines. The Galaxy signed David Beckham, one of the few players in the world whose celebrity transcends the game. He endured a benching by petulant Real Madrid to return to action for his last go-round in Spain, then pushed himself to play through injury upon joining the Galaxy.
Beckham and the Galaxy would be scrutinized heavily over the next couple of years. Fabio Capello, the coach who had benched Beckham in Madrid, took over as England national team coach and dangled international playing time as a carrot for Beckham if he’d keep dragging his aging body across the Atlantic for loan spells. He did so a couple of times and often came back to the Galaxy battered. Donovan questioned Beckham’s commitment to the Galaxy in Grant Wahl’s book The Beckham Experiment, and a lot of people wrote off the team as an ego-clashing mess. A trip to MLS Cup in 2009 didn’t solve the problem, as some injury misfortune and wayward penalty kicks left the Galaxy unable to overcome Real Salt Lake.
But with coach Bruce Arena in charge and Donovan and Beckham reconciling, the Galaxy put things together. The star-studded team claimed the Supporters’ Shield before faltering in the 2010 playoffs. Then with Robbie Keane joining the fold and Omar Gonzalez emerging as a top-flight defensive stopper, the Galaxy won it all (except the Open Cup) in 2011. They were erratic in the regular season in 2012 but won MLS Cup yet again.
Beckham moved on to France in 2013, and Donovan is taking some time off. But the expectation in Los Angeles is that any lull should be temporary.