MLS Features: Experience proves pivotal for L.A.'s MLS Cup run

Not too long ago, the Los Angeles Galaxy looked dead and buried.

On the back of a magical 2011 season that included an MLS Supporters' Shield and an MLS Cup title, the Galaxy were dealt a major blow in January when Omar Gonzalez tore his ACL in his first offseason training session with German club Nurnberg.

His absence from the center of the Los Angeles defense was extremely noticeable at the beginning of the season - the Galaxy began their title defense with a 3-8-2 record, failing to keep a clean sheet in league play until June 17.

The club's poor start, paired with some exceptional play from other teams around the league, had virtually every pundit writing off the Galaxy's chances of a second successive MLS Cup title.

But the comeback was completed on Saturday as Los Angeles clinched a fourth MLS Cup with a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center.

It was a Hollywood ending for David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy career after the English midfielder announced that Saturday's title clash would be his last match with the Galaxy.

Beckham has been a perfect fit for the city of Los Angeles, soaking up the limelight like the plethora of movie stars who light up the big screen and grace the covers of international tabloids, and the Galaxy's 2012 season has read much like a screenplay. There has been turmoil, uncertainty, drama, and ultimately, a happy ending.

But how did Major League Soccer's super club go from fighting for a playoff spot to hoisting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy?

The word that best-characterizes this year's edition of the L.A. Galaxy is "experience."

The cornerstones of the team are Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, all of who were Designated Players this season. Beckham and Keane brought a wealth of international experience through their years of European football, and Donovan is without question the greatest American player to ever play the sport.

Los Angeles has peppered quality players of all ages into the roster, but they brought some level of experience to the table.

Gonzalez, despite turning 24 in October, has raked in the accolades during his four-year professional career, landing Rookie of the Year honors in 2009 and Defender of the Year honors in 2011 while being named to the MLS Best XI in 2010 and 2011. After nodding home the equalizer in the 61st minute of Saturday's tilt with Houston, he has an MLS Cup MVP to add to his collection.

Rejoining the Galaxy during the offseason was Edson Buddle, who first broke into the league in 2001. The striker had bounced around from the Columbus Crew to Red Bull New York to Toronto FC before finding his feet with Los Angeles in 2007.

At the helm has been Bruce Arena, a man with a distinguished coaching resume. Arena had brought D.C. United to prominence at the inception of MLS, winning two of the first three MLS Cup titles with the club before going on to coach the United States national team in two World Cups. Arena returned to the league with Red Bull New York in 2006 and eventually moved to Los Angeles to start another dynasty.

When all of these pieces are taken into consideration, it's difficult to discern which is more sensational: the Galaxy's dreadful start to the campaign or the manner in which they recovered.

While everyone else was counting them out and jumping on the Sporting Kansas City or the San Jose Earthquakes bandwagons, Los Angeles was plugging away with one thing in sight.

The club achieved that goal, overcoming adversity at every turn to go level with D.C. United for most MLS Cups in the trophy cabinet. That level of success is not reached without experience.

Los Angeles is now a club in transition. A replacement for Beckham is sure to follow, and the leading candidate for the role is reportedly Brazilian playmaker Kaka. The 30-year-old brings the flair that Los Angeles would relish as well as the experience that wins titles in this league.

Should MLS sign Kaka, next year's Galaxy sequel could be an even greater success.