By now, you guys are probably used to my style of match previews. I'm going to go ahead and warn you all that this will probably be at least a little different than the rest of them. We've had nearly two weeks to wait, and in that time, we've all seen and heard just about everything there is to say or show about Saturday's MLS Cup match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo.
We know that it'll be the last MLS match for David Beckham, and possibly for Landon Donovan as well. We know that as eight and nine seeds, this wasn't supposed to be the match for the MLS Cup. We know that at least one of these teams, our own Houston Dynamo, doesn't always get the respect that they probably deserve. And we've all had last year's 1-nil result pounded into our heads like it's predestined to occur again.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of it all. The lack of respect, the constant writing off of this team, the overlooking of one of the most consistent teams in the league - these are leitmotifs that you'll hear more often than ESPN's Sportscenter jingle. And it's something that grates on me more as time passes.
But those are all things we can't change. The MLS playoff system gives us a two week break between the last legs of the conference finals and the Cup match for just this reason - to build hype. There are other reasons, of course (mainly the fact that it allows a team to get healthy again after a brutal playoff schedule), but it generally seems that the hype is paramount.
And the L.A. Galaxy are team that attracts a lot of hype, for better or worse. Their three Designated Players, Beckham, Donovan, and Irish striker Robbie Keane, are among the leagues best - and Keane and Beckham will both make more money this year than the entire Dynamo roster. They may not always deliver, but they are a team built to win championships - and to do so in a very flashy style.
They've certainly done so during the postseason, to the tune of nine goals over five matches. They outplayed Vancouver 2-1 in the play-in match, then got stunned at home by Supporters Shield winner San Jose, losing 1-nil on a late goal off of a set piece. From that moment, however, they put their foot on the gas, rolling San Jose 3-nil at home, and then beating Seattle 4-2 on aggregate (3-nil win at home, 2-1 loss in Seattle) to make it back to a second consecutive final.
We know the Dynamo's path. They won their play-in match 2-1 in Chicago, then knocked off Kansas City 2-1 in aggregate, winning 2-nil at home in the first leg before holding on to only give up one goal in a 1-nil loss in Kansas City. After that, they faced D.C. United, winning 3-1 at home before an early goal in the second leg allowed them to cruise to a 1-1 draw in D.C. and a 4-2 win on aggregate.
While the rest of the country might not be altogether thrilled about a Galaxy-Dynamo rematch for the Cup, it's clear to see that both teams deserve to be here. Though they may not have been the best of the regular season, they had the depth and luck to make a run in the postseason. And though the Galaxy won last year's Cup, they did so against a Dynamo team that is very different than the one they'll be seeing Saturday afternoon.
Though Geoff Cameron is gone, the back line has held up fairly well, with right back Kofi Sarkodie maturing quite well. Brad Davis is healthy, unlike last year - where the veteran midfielder's presence was deeply missed. The rest of the midfield has changed, too. The Honduran Oscar Boniek Garcia now anchors the right side with a creativity and joie de vivre that are a great treat to watch, and Ricardo Clark is back in orange after two years in Europe, along with Giles Barnes, who has electrified the team's play despite having only a few appearances. Ahead of them, Dynamo icon Brian Ching has been spectacular as a super-sub, and there's also a dancing bear (Will Bruin) who has learned new moves, as well as another forward (Macoumba Kandji) who is no stranger to success at this level.
That being said, this will be no easy task. This is MLS Cup. The last match of the season - a winner take all duel for glory and hardware between two teams that both know what to expect on this stage. It's only the second time that there's been a rematch in a Cup final, and Dynamo fans certainly have fond memories of the first one.
This will be, in my opinion, an uphill climb. The Galaxy are playing at home, and the emotion involved with Beckham's (and maybe Donovan's) last MLS match will certainly give them some motivation. They also know that they might get a chance to lift the Cup at home for the second year in a row, and that has to be an attractive prospect.
The Dynamo's task is simple: win the Cup, and spoil the Galaxy's coronation. I usually try to keep myself fairly non-partisan in these, but I'm not going to do so here. If I thought anybody on the team would read this, I'd go into full-on inspirational speech mode. I may not have the fan pedigree of others, but I do consider myself a good fan. If there was something I could do to ensure that this team would win the Cup Saturday, chances are I'd do it (I draw the line at cheering for that team in Frisco, but other than that...I'm pretty much open).
But there's nothing I can do. As frustrating as it is to wait, that's all that any of us can do. Fortunately, we have a great asset in our corner: the mind of Dominic Kinnear. If there's someone who can figure out a way to neutralize the brilliance of Beckham, Donovan, Keane, Mike Magee and others, it's him - and he's got a team behind him that's capable of all of this and more.
You know that Dom's probably going to give some great motivational speech, à la Henry V before the walls of Harfleur or the fields of Agincourt - or, even more appropriate, Herb Brooks before the medal round games in 1980 (by most accounts, the version given by Kurt Russell in Miracle is pretty close to what was actually said). Something about the hype, and how the Dynamo are never noticed, always written off, and how, despite all the evidence to the contrary, are never expected to succeed. Something about how they have one match to change all of this: a match to gain the respect they've certainly earned. There's a chance for revenge, yes, but Dom and the team have not been focusing on that - which I think is a very good thing.
Will the Dynamo prevail Saturday? I don't know. It will, like the rest of the playoffs, be the match à outrance - the fight to the end. A battle between two teams at the top of their game. They're playing for silverware in Carson, and nothing of that value is ever won easily.
So I say to you all, team and supporters alike, we have one more afternoon before us. One last glorious stand on the biggest stage that MLS has to offer. One last chance to scream, because the dream that we all believed in is before us. One more chance to paint the city orange and have as many noodles as you can possibly stand.
The Dynamo are preparing to go once more into the breach, and whether or not they end up triumphant, I know that I'll be proud of them, and I hope the rest of you will be, too. You've gotten this far, Dynamo. The city of Houston is behind you, win or lose. You guys will probably already be in Los Angeles by the time that this gets posted, and I highly doubt that any of you will read this, but on the off chance somebody does, could you please do me a favor?
Brad, Rico, Brian, Will, Boniek, and the rest of you: do you mind bringing the Cup back with y'all when you come home?