The 2012 MLS Cup (Saturday, 1:30 p.m. PT on TSN and TEAM 1410 radio) will be contested by the same teams as 2011, at the same venue. But don’t expect the same game.
Yes, once again LA Galaxy will host Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center, with the Dynamo hoping to overturn last year’s 1-0 defeat to the Galaxy.
There are many storylines coming into this final, but none bigger David Beckham’s last game in Major League Soccer. This will be the final chapter of his playing days in MLS – a league which he’s done a great deal to help grow.
The ultimate question, however, is not so much about Beckham, but rather if Houston can turn the tables from last year and win this MLS Cup rematch.
A different Dynamo
Houston will go into this MLS Cup a more confident team than the last time they were here. A year ago the Dynamo had to deal with the absence of their most influential playmaker, midfielder Brad Davis. Not only do they have Davis ready to play this time around, but they can go into this game knowing that they can field a more potent offensive lineup.
Last year Houston sat back and allowed the Galaxy to carry the play, hoping they would catch LA on the break. It never really worked and the Dynamo never really looked like scoring, but they did keep the game close, which gave them the best chance to win.
Houston are now a more comfortable team in possession of the ball. Players like midfielder Boniek Garcia offer something different from last year, using his dribbling skills to attack defenders or make quick runs to get in behind the defence.
Another key player will be striker Will Bruin, who has continued where he left off in the regular season by finding his scoring touch with four goals so far in the playoffs.
It’s quite clear to me that the Dynamo now have players to compliment the skills of Brad Davis, and this should change their approach from last year to be more of an attacking threat.
Motivation or distraction?
As for LA Galaxy, they will go into the game as clear favourites, however they will have to contend with the distraction of it being David Beckham’s last game in MLS. That being said, they’ve had to deal with intense spotlight ever since Beckham joined the team, so this should be nothing new for them.
The Galaxy have been the best team in MLS during the second half of the season and they are playing like a team that believes they are the best team in the league.
Facing a more attack-minded Houston team could end up playing right into their hands, as they have shown that they’re a very devastating team on the break, especially with Landon Donavon on the team.
There is hope for Houston, and they need not look further than LA’s last game. It was evident in the second leg of the Western Conference final that Seattle did not fear the Galaxy counterattack, as they committed players forward to overcome their 3-0 deficit. Mind you, they were at home.
However, Seattle probably would not have been so bold had Donovan been in the lineup. He is the most important player to LA’s counter with his speed and decision making in the final third.
His partnership with Robbie Keane has been, at many times, unstoppable.
In the end, the key to the match will be whether or not Houston can contain the Galaxy counterattack. They definitely can’t sit back like they did last year, or they’ll be inviting trouble. On the other hand, they’ll need to be selective about when to push numbers forward or else they’ll be cut apart by the speed of Donovan and skill of Keane.
It’s a delicate line that Houston will need to toe if they have any chance of spoiling the Beckham finale known as MLS Cup 2012.
In the end, I think that LA are just too strong. They’re the best team in the league, they’re at home, and they’ll have the buzz of Beckham’s last game spurring them on.
PREDICTION: LA Galaxy 3-1 Houston Dynamo