2011 MLS Cup Final Preview
LA Galaxy vs Houston Dynamo
The 2011 MLS season will finish Sunday with one of the finalists winning its third title in team history. The LA Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo both took home two trophies between 2002 and 2007, all by beating the New England Revolution. Since then only LA has made a trip back to the MLS Cup final when the Galaxy lost to Real Salt Lake in 2009. Much like the 2009 MLS Cup final, the Galaxy are favored to win, but Houston, who has never lost in an MLS Cup final, is no fluff team and in a single game upsets can easily happen.
One factor that will play a larger role in this year’s final is home field advantage. In past years the practice of choosing a site well before the actual event has limited any real kind of crowd advantage because both teams’ supporters were traveling across the country to be at the game. Often times the crowd favorite was chosen because the local soccer fans wanted a team to lose more than it wanted the other team to win. This year however, the location of the cup final is LA’s home field, the Home Depot Center. While Houston fans will do their best to show up in numbers to support their team, it will be difficult to counter the atmosphere the home team fans will create.
On the field the advantage is still being given to the star-studded LA Galaxy. The attacking trio of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham will be the center of attention for the Houston defense. Donovan lead the team this season with 12 goals though a few of those came from PKs. Keane hasn’t had as much time to get on the score sheet after joining the Galaxy in the middle of the season and then suffering an injury, but his play so far in the playoffs shows he will be more than a handful. While Beckham has not found the back of the net much this season his close to league leading 15 assists will earn him a lot of attention from Houston. Although LA has its offensive threats, the supporting cast has not been as prolific. With the loss of Chad Barrett who scored 7 goals, Mike Magee is the team’s next highest scoring threat with 5.
Unlike the Galaxy, Houston does not have a goal scoring stud on their roster, but that does not mean that they are lacking in offensive pressure. At the end of the regular season Houston finished with 45 goals compared to LA’s 48. Houston’s offense comes from a number of sources with four players leading the team with 5 goals each and three players following with 4. Playing against a team that has seen goals from so many players will put pressure on the LA defense to cover as much ground as possible, but finishing the season with 17 shutouts shows the Galaxy should be up to the task.
Unfortunately for Houston, the team’s main attacking force, Brad Davis, will miss the final after suffering an injury early against Sporting Kansas City. Davis’ league leading 16 assists will hopefully help him lose the title of “the left-footed David Beckham” after topping Beckham in the assist category, but Houston will definitely miss the dangerous services coming from the left. Despite losing their top server of the ball, Houston has not given up on scoring through dead-ball situations. Houston’s roster boasts 5 players above 6’2” compared to LA’s 2, though that does include 6’5” Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez as the tallest player on the field. With a notable height advantage, Houston will continue to be dangerous on set pieces. Forward Brian Ching had a tough season, but his size and experience still makes him Houston’s most dangerous threat going forward.
In the back Houston does not match up as well with LA. During the regular season Houston conceded 41 goals to the Galaxy’s 28. However, recent form shows promise for the Dynamo, having only conceded 6 goals in their last nine games. Houston will also have the possible advantage of knowing who LA’s goals will probably come from. A late-season switch moving Geoff Cameron to central defense with Bobby Boswell has worked well and the duo has the ability and experience to deal with Keane and his to-be-named partner up top. While the injury to Davis hurts the Houston offense, Corey Ashe will most likely move to the vacant spot from left back and will provide more defensive help to contain Donovan on the right. As for Beckham, he will probably be seeing a lot of Adam Moffat, who has done well shutting down players in the midfield.
The goalkeeper match-up in this game is possibly the most impressive aspect of this final. For both Houston’s Tally Hall and LA’s Josh Saunders, the 2011 season is the first time either keeper has seen significant playing time. The retirement of veteran keeper Pat Onstad last season put Hall as the starting keeper in his third year in the league. He took over the starting role playing in every game this season and finished with a 1.14 GAA earning 8 shutouts. Josh Saunders has been in the league since 2003, but it wasn’t until after Donovan Ricketts went down with an injury this season that Saunders saw significant playing time. Saunders stepped in and hasn’t given up the #1 spot even after Ricketts recovered. In Saunders’ 22 games he earned 9 shutouts, and finished with a 0.90 GAA. Despite the playoff inexperience for both keepers, this will actually be Saunders’ second time in an MLS Cup final. In the 2009 final Saunders was subbed in after Ricketts injured his hand.
Coverage for the 2011 MLS Cup Final will begin at 9PM EST/8PM CST and will be televised on ESPN, Galavision and TSN 2.