November 19, 2011
Galaxy to face Orange blockade
By KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency
TORONTO - When the LA Galaxy plays host to the Houston Dynamo in tonightís Cup final, the Angel City club hopes to accomplish something that hasnít happened since 1997 ó 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 tonightís 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 ó 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 ó on paper ó the league has seen.
While the clubs split a pair of meetings during the regular season, in a single-game final, recent form canít be ignored.
Houston enters tonightís 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 ó 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 wonít feature his sideís 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 Houstonís previous playoff matches are an indication of things to come, the Dynamo wonít 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 Arenaís 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 Irishmanís ability to slip into gaps and openings before receiving balls from a likely source ó 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 Galaxyís bench boss will be searching for a third Cup of his own.
And itís nothing Arena hasnít seen before. Clubs have repeatedly travelled to L.A. in search of nothing more than a point. Arenaís ability to keep his side on the front foot despite Houstonís frustrating tactics will determine if the Galaxy has the patience to break down what will be an orange blockade.
While thereís 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.
Robbie Keane vs. Bobby Boswell
Can a Houston defence that hasnít 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 Houstonís ball-winning back line that lacks quickness.
Quiet the crowd: In the 23 matches, L.A. scored first in this year, the Galaxy lost none. Although itís 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 Dynamoís five playoff goals have come off restarts.
Mark up: Canadian Andre Hainault and Geoff Cameron will look to get forward on restarts. If the Galaxy fail to stay tight, theyíll find themselves trailing against the run of play.
Vets step up: The Galaxyís three DPís ó all of which have played in World Cups ó must assert their composure.
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.