The MLS Cup Final was a dandy, and Tommy Howe had a chance to see just how high some former players have soared.
“Hey, Coach, over here!”
A TSA agent at Lambert Airport beckoned Sporting STL’s Director of Coaching, Tommy Howe. Howe was on his way to the MLS Cup to witness first-hand the influence his coaching has had on the American professional soccer league. The finalists, L.A. Galaxy and Houston Dynamo, would each be suiting up two players that Howe had helped develop.
But before Howe had even boarded the plane to Los Angeles, he was being reminded of the impact of his remarkable coaching career. The TSA agent who had hailed him was the father of two sons who had played on two of Howe’s national championship teams.
Upon arrival at the Home Depot Center before the game, Howe had a chance to catch up with another former player, Galaxy Vice President Chris Klein. Before retiring after the 2010 season, Klein had spent 12 years in the MLS, was a four-time all-star, and had won the MLS Cup in 2000 with Kansas City.
However, it would be on the field that Howe’s unique status among American youth coaches would be on full display. Howe’s nephew, Tommy Meyer, and Pat Noonan would be representing the Galaxy. The Dynamo would be relying on Brad Davis and Will Bruin.
Each of these players had spent their youth careers under Tommy Howe’s direction. All four were first round draft picks. Davis, the Dynamo captain, started his career in 2002 and would be playing in his fourth MLS Cup, having won two. This would be Noonan’s fifth MLS Cup appearance out of ten years in the league. He appeared in four consecutive championships from 2005-2008, winning in 2008 with the Columbus Crew. Although only in his second professional season, Bruin was already making his second Final’s appearance. Like his former college teammate Bruin before him, Meyer would be concluding his rookie campaign vying for an MLS Cup.
Houston started the game with Davis at midfield and Bruin up top. Meyer started at center-back for Los Angeles with Noonan among the Galaxy reserves.
The Dynamo came out of the gate strong and dictated the action for the first ten minutes, but the Galaxy had the first clear scoring chance. In the 12th minute, David Beckham hit Robbie Keane with a forty yard cross-field pass that sent the Irish striker into the left side of the penalty box. Keane beat his defender and played a perfect pass across the face of the goal to Landon Donovan, but the usually lethal finisher pushed his shot just wide of the open net.
A well-played first half looked to be heading toward a scoreless halftime. In the 44th minute, though, Bruin dropped toward the midfield allowing Calen Carr to exploit the seam between Omar Gonzalez and Meyer with a perfectly timed run. Houston midfielder Adam Moffat lofted a pass over Meyer, sending Carr in on goal. With Meyer pressuring his left side and keeper Josh Saunders guarding the near post, Carr roofed a right-footed shot over Saunders to give Houston a 1-0 lead.
The second half started with the Galaxy turning up the pressure. It was obvious that Beckham, playing in his last game for L.A., wanted to go out as a winner. In the 60th minute, he hit a vicious in-swinging corner kick right on frame. Dynamo goalie, Tally Hall, had no choice but to punch the ball clear.
Beckham chased down the rebound and played it laterally to Sean Franklin who found Juninho open on the right side. Juninho floated a perfect cross to the far goalpost where the man of the match, Omar Gonzalez, was waiting. The 6’5” center-back out jumped two Houston defenders and pounded a header into the far corner, pulling the Galaxy even and sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Just four minutes later L.A. struck again. Meyer, atoning for the earlier defensive miscue, headed a loose ball to Mike Magee at the Houston six yard box. Magic Mike fired a bicycle kick off the arm of Ricardo Clark, and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Donovan calmly buried the PK and L.A. led 2 – 1.
Davis relentlessly tried to bring the Dynamo back level with his pinpoint passing and dangerous free kicks. The Galaxy defense, however, blanketed Bruin and the other Houston attackers, limiting their chances mostly to long range shots. Finally, the irrepressible Keane drew a penalty in stoppage time and put the game out of reach with his 6th playoff goal. (Bruin ended his playoff run with four goals.)
Tommy Howe enjoyed the almost unimaginable spectacle of watching four of his former players compete in Major League Soccer’s ultimate game. Even with his lofty standards, they made their old mentor extremely proud.