It's a starry Galaxy vs. a grinding Dynamo in MLS Cup
Sunday's match to feature Beckham, Donovan and two very different styles of play
Sunday, the Los Angeles Galaxy faces off against the Houston Dynamo in the 2011 MLS Cup.
The Galaxy, as befitting their name, boasts many stars. A team that already included U.S. national team captain Landon Donovan and a fellow named David Beckham, added Irish great Robbie Keane in August. The three led the team to the best record in the league, and the team didn't lose a single home game.
The Dynamo, on the other hand, is a more low-key squad. They feature players known by MLS fans, like Brian Ching and Honduran Carlos Costly, but "star-studded" is not a term that is used for them. They didn't even boast a strong record this year: 12 wins, nine losses, 13 draws, three points away from not making the play offs at all.
This would be enough to make the Dynamo underdogs, but add to that the location of the final: the Galaxy's home stadium in Carson, Calif. It sounds like the makings of a rout, right?
A face without a name, just walking in the rain
ESPN commentator Glenn Davis doesn't doubt the Dynamo's chances.
"Everybody is focused on the Los Angeles Galaxy," he said in a phone call. "But Houston is underestimated, they are confident and hard to break down."
Davis may be a bit biased. He's a Houstonian and, in the 1980s, he played for a minor league team called the Houston Dynamos.
But, still, he makes a strong case. The Galaxy's modus operandi is to prevent teams from taking shots, but Houston's strength is set pieces: three of the five goals they scored in the playoffs were off of set pieces.
"They've got four guys six foot and above," he says, pointing out how important headers can be on corner and free kicks. "They've got Adam Moffat who can deliver goals off set pieces."
The team will be without league assist leader Brad Davis (no relation), who was injured early in the Dynamo's victory over Sporting Kansas City in the final playoff round. Glenn Davis thinks that Houston's bench is strong enough to replace Brad Davis.
"They'll move Corey Ashe into the midfield, and Jermaine Taylor will replace him in the back," he says. It was similar to what happened in the Kansas City game, and it should be pointed out that both of Houston's goals were scored after Brad Davis was injured.
That Houston is in the final at all is a controversy among MLS fans. Davis is willing to acknowledge that "the league doesn't reward consistency," but that the team made it this far because they put things together at the end of the season.
"It's about playing your soccer at the right time," he said.
Still, he thinks that the Dynamo will pull off the win despite the lack of flash for a simple reason: they are a team.
"Houston had real struggles; they fought through it ... you'll see a total defensive effort. It won't be glamorous."
Flying over the date line
Davis believes, but Ironwood Ridge soccer coach Tyler Aldrich thinks that Houston shouldn't even be in the game.
"It sounds horrible, but I don't think Houston should be there other than the fact that they won three games in a row. Houston is not the elite of the league. The real final was last week when L.A. played Salt Lake."
Aldrich echoes the gripes of many MLS fans who thought that the playoffs unfairly rewarded weaker Eastern Conference teams.
Still, these are the two teams in the final, and Aldrich is giving the victory to the Galaxy.
"They'll work their usual game plan and hold possession as much as they can and use their midfield to destroy the other team's attack," he said. He added a prediction: "They'll get a goal in the first 45 minutes, and if they get another goal it'll be on a break because they'll play their shut-down defense and only try for the 1-0 win"
The game very well could be the final time David Beckham dons a Galaxy jersey. Beckham has had a lot of criticism in his years with the Galaxy but Aldrich thinks he's had a "fantastic" season. For one, the team has stopped depending on him as a winger and moved him into the center. He's embraced the new role.
"He's clearly been dedicated to the team and he deserves to be on MLS best XI," Aldrich said.
Aldrich looks for a thinks a good defensive performance is key.
"You need to see a good game from their back four. It's all about Omar Gonzales and it's all about Todd Dunnivant," he said.
Still, he acknowledges the Dynamo's performance on set pieces: "If Houston gets down there for a corner, it's dangerous."
And recently ...
Houston and Los Angeles faced each other only a few weeks back, in the last game of the year for both teams.
The result: a 3-1 victory for Houston.