Major League Soccer’s 2012 season reaches its climax on Saturday when defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo meet for the second consecutive year to crown the North American league’s champions. The contest will be a clash of styles and football cultures as the men from LA, star-studded and flashy, take on the gritty Texans, known more for their determination than panache.
As it was last year, the game will be held in the outskirts of Los Angeles, the Galaxy’s superior record in the regular season allowing them home-field advantage in the one-off title decider. “We don’t mind playing at their place. They will have the edge in not having to travel, and playing in front of their fans, but that’s OK. We’ll play anywhere,” said veteran Houston left-back Corey Ashe, making a subtle nod to his side’s comfort in the role of underestimated underdogs.
Despite all the bluster and belief in the Houston camp, they will know all too well that they have only scored once in their last five trips to LA’s Home Depot Center.
The home team will have fond memories of last year’s MLS Cup, too, as Landon Donavan’s second-half strike earned them the laurels in a 1-0 win, a third title for the Galaxy. That said, Houston are hungry to collect their third crown as well, and they have Brad Davis available – the midfielder and assist specialist’s absence was deeply felt in last year’s clash, which was a lopsided affair despite the slim scoreline.
Houston will also be buoyed by the addition of Honduran international Boniek Garcia, who’s signing at the start of the season has given Dominic Kinnear’s side a more dynamic look in midfield.
Adding spice to the occasion is the fact that the game will be David Beckham’s last in Major League Soccer, the former England captain having announced his decision to leave the States, and LA, after arriving to much fanfare in 2007. “He was an unbelievable ambassador for the league, for the Galaxy,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber, leading the outpouring of nostalgia that looks like making Saturday’s final into a testimonial of sorts.
“There’s going to be a lot of hype around the game – it being Beckham’s last, but that’s OK because we’re going there to play,” said Houston’s Ashe.
Clash of styles
The LA Galaxy will be confident heading into the game, their former longtime USA coach Bruce Arena claiming “we’ve been the best team in the league since the summer.” It’s a difficult point to argue, too, and their roster reads like a who’s who of international stars, with Beckham, now 37, and Donovan taking care of the play-making, and Republic of Ireland international Robbie Keane in a rich vein of scoring form.
“He’s got so much quality that if his opponents give him half a chance, he’ll punish them straightaway. He’s playing so well at the moment,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said of Keane, who was recently included in MLS’ Best XI, alongside Beckham and Donovan.
Houston, on the other hand, are devoid of brand-name stars; they have no players in the league Best XI. But what they lack in individual quality, they make up for in work rate, collective understanding, determination and strength on set pieces. “We’re a damn hard team to play against,” Houston’s Davis, who ranks Beckham among one of his early playing idols, told FIFA.com.
That’s not to say that Kinnear’s Dynamo, who have only failed to reach the post-season play-offs once since their founding in 2006, don’t pack a punch in front of goal. Striker Will Bruin has hit the back of the net 12 times this season, only four off Keane’s blistering pace.
MLS’ traditional one-off final creates a peculiar tension, with everything on the line. Houston’s Ashe has the final word. “It’s going to be an open game, with emotions running very high.”