Galaxy to face Orange blockade

David Beckham of the L.A. Galaxy shoots as Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic (R) keeps his eyes on...

David Beckham of the L.A. Galaxy shoots as Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic (R) keeps his eyes on the ball during their game in Harrison, New Jersey on July 27, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:35 PM ET

TORONTO - When the LA Galaxy plays host to the Houston Dynamo in tonight’s Cup final, the Angel City club hopes to accomplish something that hasn’t happened since 1997 — the last time an MLS club (DC United) raised the Cup in front of home supporters.

Making a record seventh appearance in an MLS championship, the Galaxy enters tonight’s match as the heavy favourite after going unbeaten in 20 matches in all competition at the Home Depot Centre this season.

Worse for Houston, an injury at Kansas City during the Eastern Conference final has sidelined MVP candidate Brad Davis and his league-leading 16 assists — a devastating blow to a side that relies heavily on Davis for his service and vision in the attacking third.

With those talking points in mind, the near 20-point gap that opened between the two clubs during the MLS regular season has odds-makers establishing the visitors as massive underdogs in what might be the most lopsided final — on paper — the league has seen.

While the clubs split a pair of meetings during the regular season, in a single-game final, recent form can’t be ignored.

Houston enters tonight’s match riding road success that eluded it for much of 2011. In addition to ending the regular season with impressive road performances at Portland and Dallas, back-to-back playoff wins at Philadelphia and Kansas City have the Dynamo in an unlikely spot.

No stranger to MLS Cup, Houston manager Dominic Kinnear is known for his organization and an ability to get the most out of his teams — tactics that earned a far from star-studded Houston lineup a pair of championships in 2006 and 2007.

Forced to send out a lineup that won’t feature his side’s most notable threat, as it did in the conference final, Houston will look to sit back and kill the game in search of dead-ball situations and counter-attacks through wingers Danny Cruz and Corey Ashe.

If Houston’s previous playoff matches are an indication of things to come, the Dynamo won’t be interested in showcasing an impressive brand of soccer against a club that lacks any real weakness heading into the final.

Although not as crucial as the injury to Davis, after turning his ankle in training, a freak injury is set to keep former TFC whipping boy Chad Barrett out of head coach Bruce Arena’s lineup. Second on the Galaxy with seven goals, the deepest club in the league should have a number of options to do the grunt work in pairing with Irish striker Robbie Keane.

Fresh off potting a brace against Estonia in a EURO 2012 qualifier last week, along with Landon Donovan, Keane should find himself mismatched against a Houston defence that will have a difficult time containing the Irishman’s ability to slip into gaps and openings before receiving balls from a likely source — David Beckham.

As Kinnear and the Dynamo do their best to frustrate the above combination during what should be an overwhelming gap in possession, for all the experience in the opposite dugout, the Galaxy’s bench boss will be searching for a third Cup of his own.

And it’s nothing Arena hasn’t seen before. Clubs have repeatedly travelled to L.A. in search of nothing more than a point. Arena’s ability to keep his side on the front foot despite Houston’s frustrating tactics will determine if the Galaxy has the patience to break down what will be an orange blockade.

While there’s no doubt the gap in talent will be as one-sided as support in the stands tonight, the club that best sticks to the mindset it starts with will give itself the best chance to hoist the trophy.

MARQUEE MATCHUP

Robbie Keane vs. Bobby Boswell

Can a Houston defence that hasn’t competed in two weeks handle the cleverness of an in-form Keane and a speedy Landon Donovan? Not exactly known for his pace, while good on the ball, Boswell must find a way to make up positionally for what he lacks in speed. The same can be said for the rest of Houston’s ball-winning back line that lacks quickness.

CUP KEYS

HOUSTON

Quiet the crowd: In the 23 matches, L.A. scored first in this year, the Galaxy lost none. Although it’s a common theme in most matches, conceding first will likely be too much.

Set pieces: A stingy L.A. defence makes set pieces sacred. Three of the Dynamo’s five playoff goals have come off restarts.

LOS ANGELES

Mark up: Canadian Andre Hainault and Geoff Cameron will look to get forward on restarts. If the Galaxy fail to stay tight, they’ll find themselves trailing against the run of play.

Vets step up: The Galaxy’s three DP’s — all of which have played in World Cups — must assert their composure.

OF NOTE

David Beckham missed consecutive days of training before the weekend with a slight illness.

An undermanned Galaxy side fell 3-1 in Houston on the final day of the MLS season.

L.A. will look to become the first club to win an MLS Cup with at least one Designated Player.


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