FRISCO, Texas — The MLS championship featured the season scoring leader against the career playoff scoring leader. So guess who scored the game's only goal?
A guy coming off the worst offensive season in league history.
Guillermo Ramirez perfectly timed a deflected shot from the top of the penalty box, sending it past a fallen goaltender and between two would-be defenders in stoppage time of the first overtime, giving the Los Angeles Galaxy a 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup on Sunday.
"You can't really describe what you're feeling when you score a goal like that," Ramirez said through a translator. "It was a beautiful moment."
Nicknamed "Pando," the Guatemalan term for someone who is bowlegged, Ramirez had only one goal on 62 shots this season, the worst ratio in the 10 years of the MLS. His only goal came in September, after he lost his spot in the starting lineup, and it came on a penalty kick, plus needed a carom off the post and the goalkeeper's back.
But with the title on the line, he did what teammate Landon Donovan (14 career postseason goals) and New England's Taylor Twellman (17 goals this season) couldn't do — score.
Donovan started the play with a corner kick from the right side. Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis ran out to punch it away, only to send it directly to Ramirez. With no defender near him, Ramirez leaped and kicked the ball out of the air and into the net.
"I'm very proud of Pando Ramirez, a guy who suffered all year and didn't score one goal in the flow of play all season," Los Angeles coach Steve Sampson said. "If he had scored more goals during the course of the season, we would've won more ballgames. But he found the right time to get it done."
As if to prove his lumpy touch, Ramirez missed a close-in chance for a second goal in the closing minutes. Regardless, he was selected the MVP, quite a feat for someone who entered in the 66th minute.
"I'm stunned, impressed and extremely happy for him," said Donovan, who won his third MLS Cup, but first for his hometown team. "He deserves his reward."
The Galaxy won their second championship in five finals. This was the least expected considering they went 13-13-7 this season and claimed the eighth and final playoff seed. They have both the fewest wins and lowest seed of any league champion.
"It was a great finish to a wonderful run," said Sampson, best known as the coach of the 1998 U.S. team that finished last among 32 teams in the World Cup. "During the playoffs, we finally found our form."
Both Los Angeles titles have been 1-0 victories over New England in overtime. The other was in 2002, and this game played out much like that one: No goals in regulation, the Revolution going a tremendous stretch without a shot on goal and plenty of yellow cards — 10, double the most in any title game.
The loss was especially disappointing for New England because of it went an Eastern Conference-best record of 17-7-8 this season. Revs owner Robert Kraft, who also owns the NFL's Patriots, even made the rare decision of skipping football for futbol in hopes of being handed his second championship trophy in 2005.
Late goals were their specialty, but they couldn't come up with one when they needed it most.
"You feel like we're a team that should've won," midfielder Clint Dempsey said. "I'm sure everybody in the locker room feels the same way."
New England had only two shots on goal, none until the 62nd minute. Its best chance of tying the game was a header by Shalrie Joseph that went over the goal in the second overtime.
Galaxy forward Herculez Gomez took a championship record-tying nine shots, but only one on goal. Donovan attempted six, with four on goal, including the most exciting play of the first half — a full-pitch run in the last minute for a shot that Reis slapped away with one hand.
Donovan also started a three-shot flurry late in the second half, getting denied by New England's league rookie of the year Michael Parkhurst. A minute later, Gomez had an open net when Reis charged at him but chipped it over the goal, then soon after Cobi Jones hit the crossbar.
New England's Jose Cancela had the first good scoring chance in overtime, a shot from about 15 yards out that Galaxy goaltender Kevin Hartman punched away. Soon after, Twellman tried a header that went over the goal. Donovan went low for a header a few minutes later, but it went wide right.
The tight game was no surprise. Both regular-season meetings between the teams ended in 1-1 ties.