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Are the 2011 Galaxy the best MLS team ever?


With their 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo yesterday, the Galaxy reached their season-long goal of winning an MLS Cup and certain high-profile players notched their first North American championship.  Anytime a team wins a championship, writers and bloggers take to the keyboard to assess where that team or franchise fits in the pantheon of previous winners.

This writer is no different, and for the first time in a few years we have to seriously consider how the 2011 Galaxy stack up against the best of the best in MLS (albeit short) history.  The last two MLS Cup winners (RSL and Colorado) arguably slid into the championship game due to playoff format rather than on-field success, so it has been a while since we’ve had a top regular season club win the Cup.

Ultimately it is impossible to compare this era of MLS to the first few years.  With fewer teams and different rules, can the 2011 Galaxy be compared to the early DC United teams that fielded so many USMNT players, or even the 1998 Galaxy or similar successful teams?  Even Bruce Arena didn’t tip his hand, telling reporters prior to last night’s game: “Couldn’t even compare it [his DC and LA teams].  I don’t even know how you do that.”

But the impressive run for the Galaxy demands we place them in a historical context.  So are the 2011 Galaxy the best team in MLS history?  A few points to consider:

  • Their 67 regular season points is the most ever in a post-shoot out season and they finished 5-0 in the playoffs.  They allowed fewer goals than games played (28 total)
  • Arguably the Galaxy have the best MLS player ever on its roster, as well as the best international (I’ll define that as non-North American) ever to play in MLS.  With his fourth MLS Cup, Landon Donovan joins an elite group of players with four rings and if he continues to play in MLS and score the way he has, he will eclipse Jeff Cunningham as the league’s all-time leading scorer.  And while Beckham has been rightfully criticized for his lack of commitment to the league based on his salary and expectations, when healthy and committed he has been an unstoppable force for LA.
  • While the three designated players get the press, it’s the role players that really propelled this team.  The stout back line led by future USMNT call-up (right?) Omar Gonzalez was a key to the Galaxy being able to play their cobra-like quick strike and down offense.  Juninho was a quality acquisition who gave them some game-winners during the season.  And forwards like Mike Magee and Chad Barrett while not world beaters were the roll players that any successful team needs to be, well, successful.
  • The travel.  With 18 teams in the league and a balanced schedule, the Galaxy faced more travel than any previous MLS winner within the league.  Outside of the league, the Galaxy faced even more mileage with the competitive CONCACAF Champions group stage, meaning this veteran team spent a lot of time in the air traveling.  This certainly makes it harder to play at a high level on the road and while other MLS champions have also booked lots of mileage, few I wager would have put in the travel of LA.
  • Statistically, the Galaxy’s season makes a strong case.  According to Grant Wahl’s stat work, LA had the third best points-per-game season ever in MLS, behind two teams that did not win an MLS Cup (LA ’98 and San Jose ’05).  The metric is the number of points for the season divided by number of games played, with Wahl adjusting for shoot-outs in the early years.  So according to this metric, a regular season that ended with the Supporters Shield looks even better.
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  1. Chris Riordan

    November 24, 2011 at 3:27 am

    I don’t see how the league is too young to have this discussion …
    after all, aren’t these types of discussions the reason to have a
    website about the league. However, there are valid points being
    made as to why the comparison is hard to quantify … still it’s
    fun to discuss. Even as a DC supporter … gotta go with the Galaxy
    on this one. Listen to the latest podcast to hear why I say this.

  2. freddy fixer

    November 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Just a little D.C. history, the Galaxy does not measure up yet.
    Over the club’s history, D.C. United has been considered to be the
    flagship franchise of MLS winning 12 international and domestic
    titles. Domestically, United has been one of the most successful
    MLS clubs. United has won the U.S. Open Cup twice, and holds an MLS
    record for most MLS Cup and MLS Supporters’ Shields apiece, winning
    each honor four times. United was the also the first club to win
    both the MLS Cup and MLS Supporters’ Shield consecutively.[1] On
    the international stage, D.C. United has competed in both the
    CONCACAF Champions League and its predecessor, the CONCACAF
    Champions’ Cup. The club is also the only American soccer club to
    ever compete in a CONMEBOL (South American) competition,
    participating in the 2005 and 2007 editions of the Copa
    Sudamericana. In 1998, the club won the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.[2]
    Subsequently, United won the now-defunct Copa Interamericana, a
    competition between the CONCACAF on CONMEBOL champion that year to
    determine the best soccer club in the Americas. In the 1998, and
    final edition of the Copa Interamericana, D.C. United defeated
    Vasco da Gama of Brazil to take the title.[3]

  3. dan

    November 23, 2011 at 8:06 am

    I am REALLY pissed that teh supporters shield is dead now, it makes
    no significance. This Galaxy team will go down as the best MLS team
    ever for this generation of MLS. Whether the future becomes a one
    table and world respected league or if we try so hard to be
    american, what they are doing now, who knows

  4. Wascal

    November 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I’d say that this Galaxy team is the best MLS team ever

  5. CrazyMike366

    November 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I think there are only a handful of teams you can really argue for
    here. On the shortlist, I’d put (1) ’11 LA (2) ’99 DCU (3) ’05 San
    Jose (4) ’01 Miami (5) ’02 or ’05 Revs. But then again, I didn’t
    start actively following MLS til ’05 or so. Times have changed a
    lot. The old teams were very good because they could get a high
    concentration of talent with fewer teams to compete with for
    contracts, but the current teams have the Designated Player rule.
    Given the current size of the league (and the distribution of
    talent that statistic implies) 2011 LA Galaxy has to be right near
    the top, at least relativistically. I would take this Galaxy team
    straight up in a one-off match against just about any MLS team from

  6. Brian

    November 22, 2011 at 9:54 am

    The Galaxy had by my count 13 victories this year by 1 goal to 0.
    Most efficient team in MLS history? By a landslide. Best team in
    MLS history? I don’t think so. With the best player in MLS history
    playing along side the most expensive and highest profile attacking
    player in MLS history, I would’ve expected a little less “score and
    suffocate the game.” They won and that’s all the matters to them
    (rightly so). But best ever? Nope.

    • Charles

      November 22, 2011 at 10:11 am

      I watched a fair amount of LA games. Maybe it was just their D was
      that good and their offense was missing Buddle big time
      ?……………………Either way I guess that means you would
      say that they are not the best ever, huh ?

  7. The original Tom

    November 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    You make a good case that they were the best ever. Charles- The
    argument was only comparing single seasons- you’re right, they
    haven’t won 4 cups (they are not a dynasty), but in this season
    they were really dominant. And regardless of your hostility to the
    supporters shield- a dominant team must be the regular season’s
    best and MLS cup winners to be in this discussion. It also
    certainly helps that they were far superior in the final.

    • Charles

      November 21, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      My hostility toward SS is only because I want a single large goal,
      rather than a handful of small goals ( small by default, since
      there are so many of them), definitely NOT because I don’t want it
      to count in the discussion which of course it has to
      count…………………… paragraph break
      here………………….I hear you when you say single season,
      but when you look at a single season and they are able to “prove”
      it with the same team it shows a LOT. It is like a game of horse,
      give me the “prove it” shot. This team didn’t make any “prove it”
      shots, until it was too late to prove it ( if Beckham leaves ).
      Instead they were outplayed in a close game versus Salt Lake and
      completely outplayed by Dallas last year. I didn’t follow MLS, I
      watched USL, much when DC was maybe hitting those prove it shots.

      • The original Tom

        November 21, 2011 at 2:32 pm

        Not to devolve too much into structure debates, but, you enjoyed
        the US Open cup win, didn’t you? Not to mention rooting for or
        against RSL in the Champions’ League. _________paragraph
        beak_________ One weakness of this LA team was defending “set
        pieces”, they found a way around this, they didn’t give up any.

        • Charles

          November 22, 2011 at 10:16 am

          I am torn on the US Open Cup. Of course I have enjoyed seeing the
          Sounders win it three times in a row. Plus the lower leagues
          getting a chance to play MLS, as evidenced when the Sounders made
          the semis when they weren’t in MLS the two previous years, but MLS
          could drop it like NASL did and it wouldn’t kill me…or anyone
          else quite frankly…………………………….CCL is just an
          extention of our national championship to the regional
          championships to go to the World Championships. I would have no
          problems changing the CCL four teams to final four in the playoffs
          without the USOC…….your thoughts ?

          • Robert

            November 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm

            Charles, NASL didn’t drop the Cup it was the powers that be that
            told them it was too late to include them because of all that D-2
            sanctioning fiasco. Garber and Gulati are to blame for there non
            participation. I would ditch the MLS Cup and keep the Open Cup.

          • Alex

            November 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm

            you wouldnt have a problem dropping a cup thats been around since
            1914? you of all people who parade around Sounders for having a
            chopped up 30+ year history? you gotta be kidding me.

          • The original Tom

            November 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm

            Charles- I am ok with how they allocate the champions league spots.
            I’d give one to the MLS cup winner, one to the open cup, and two to
            the league. If one of the cup winners is in the top two in the
            league, I’d give the cup spot to the league, not the cup runner up.

          • Charles

            November 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

            TOT. That is completely un-doable in my opinion. Eventually there
            will be a good team in the East. IF there is only one, they
            shouldn’t be the team representing just because they have more
            points in an unbalanced schedule………………..MLS needs to
            quit appeasing and just do what it is going to do eventually
            anyway………………Robert, I am talking NASL, as in Sounders
            1974-1983….NOT NASL, as in aftermath of a free market league that
            was crushed into obscurity by MLS.

          • The original Tom

            November 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm

            Charles- I don’t see what is hard about it. You give one league
            place to the regular season winner of each division (as well the
            top two seeds in the play-offs), that is a nice incentive for teams
            to finish first. Then, should one of the those teams win the cup,
            you give the MLS cup winners spot to the team the non-division
            winner with the highest record. I don’t see how that is less fair
            than giving it based on one round of play-offs (and, to boot, you’d
            probably go with conference-based play-offs, unlike me).
            ——————– There is a good chance this league will be
            dominated by the west for a long time, people are much less fans of
            their traditional sports teams in the west. We can have it both
            ways- a meaningful regular season followed by a great play-off

  8. Earl Reed

    November 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    In my opinion, the league is way too young for this argument. You have a financial model that’s evolving, and it’s changing the playing field completely. There are other factors as well, such as finances forcing one team to sell a player on the market, while MLS holds firm that another team can keep its talismanic player(s) plus go out and buy another.

    The true measure of a sports team in America is when they build from the basement and win. The primary example I will give is the 1980’s San Francisco 49ers. That was a team drafted, trained, and grown from within. That’s the type of dynasty that MLS should be driving for in the long term. This LA team was good, of course. But like it’s New York rival, it’s been built by overspending other clubs. And trust me, I don’t want to take anything away from the Galaxy, but for MLS to evolve into something more than the spectacle, they need to show a greater equity towards all teams.

    • Charles

      November 21, 2011 at 1:52 pm

      Why do you get paragraph breaks ?

    • Clampdown

      November 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      A greater equity towards all teams? I’m sorry, but I thought all
      teams in MLS were allowed the same number of DPs … a grand total
      of three. Let’s see, that’s three out of 30 on the senior roster.
      If a team believes it can’t, for financial reasons, employ three
      DPs then it probably shouldn’t be in business. I don’t disagree
      with you about building from within and that should be MLS’ goal
      long term. But when you pay the ridiculously low salaries that MLS
      pays to the vast majority of its players it’s going to continue to
      lose promising young players to even second-tier European clubs. I
      don’t want that, but it’s the reality of the situation. As for LA,
      this is probably the best team I’ve seen in MLS. DC was a “great”
      team when there were few teams and the quality of play was, quite
      frankly, awful.

      • GalaxyScum

        November 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm

        The 1927 New York Yankees, widely considered the greatest baseball
        team of all time, won at a time when there was only 16 teams in
        MLB. And the early DC teams didn’t win a bunch of 1-0 games like LA
        this year, they routinely rolled teams 3-0.

  9. Charles

    November 21, 2011 at 11:24 am

    The Supporters Shield is dead, so looking at the best ever is going
    to be determined by who wins the MLS Cup. I am interested people
    that watched the DC teams. It was easier to win back then ( less
    teams ), but they won many championships, rather than just
    one……………….hopefully we will get some discussion, rather
    than that joke trolls taking over…….some of your negative
    arguements, are true of every team, journeymen not being world
    beaters……there is a salary cap and due to lack of interest from
    the idiots ( non-MLS watchers ), it is low………………..the
    MLS loaded with USMNT is a joke arguement, as has been said MANY
    times before, having a player that CANT play in Europe because no
    one wants him so he plays in MLS, is a lot worse than having a
    Landon who chooses to play here. It doesn’t mean MLS is worse
    because USMNT guys are playing in Europe, it means the US players
    are better.

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