We are only four days from the culmination of the 2011 season and I don't know about all of you, but I'm ready. Alas, we must be patient and in an attempt to give you something to focus on ahead of the game, I figured it would be good to offer up my analysis of the two teams and who I see having the advantage, at least on paper.
Tally Hall and Josh Saunders have been pretty much lights out down the stretch for their respective clubs. In 270 minutes of playoff soccer, Hall has allowed one goal and Saunders has allowed two. It's hard to get much better than that. Ever since taking over for Donovan Ricketts back in late June, Saunders has cemented himself as the Galaxy's #1 keeper, so much so that Ricketts is considered one of the most likely players to be traded in the off season. In 19 matches, Saunders has a 0.93 GAA and 55 saves, many of which that have been of the highlight reel variety. Meanwhile, Tally Hall has played every minute of every game for the Dynamo in his first season as the starting goalkeeper. There's a reason we call him The Wall and he's more than earned that nickname in the playoffs with two clean sheets.
Advantage: Dynamo - Hall has been nearly perfect of late and while Saunders has been impressive, he still has moments that can make your heart skip a beat.
If you try to compare these two defenses purely on statistics and scorelines, you'd probably give the outright advantage to the Galaxy, but you can't do that. The Houston back line was a virtual science experiment most of the season as Kinnear tried numerous combination in an attempt to find the best four players. It wasn't until September when Geoff Cameron was moved back to the defense from his CAM spot that things finally settled. From that point forward, the Dynamo defense was efficient and organized, performing in the way Houston fans have come to expect from a Kinnear led team. Andre Hainault has been an anchor all season and Bobby Boswell has rediscovered his form after being paired again with Cameron. As for the Galaxy, they are led by MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez, the often under-rated A.J. DeLaGarza and the dependable Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant. Their stats have been great all season, and they are easily the best defense in the league. LA only allowed 28 goals all season, the next best goals against total was 36 by the Union and Real Salt Lake.
Advantage: Galaxy - Kinnear is forced to change his back line with the injury to Brad Davis. Corey Ashe who has become to regular starter at left back will likely push forward and be replaced by Jermaine Taylor, fortunately he's pretty damn good. Still, it's an adjustment that tips the scales for me.
Brad Davis, who should be the 2011 MVP, will not play on Sunday thanks to a torn quadriceps. The Dynamo will likely move Corey Ashe in to Davis' spot and while he's a solid player, he's no Davis. Fortunately, Luiz Camargo and Adam Moffat will be there to anchor the spine of the midfield and the speedy Danny Cruz will probably start on the right. Then there's the Galaxy featuring some guy named David Beckham and some guy name Landon Donovan....oh yeah, and some guy named Juninho. Yeah, the Galaxy midfield is basically an all-star team. You don't need me to tell you how good they are. It's a battle between the Galaxy's style and the Dynamo's physicality.
Advantage: Galaxy - Look, I have every bit of confidence on Moffat and Camargo, but losing Brad Davis is too much to overcome when it comes to comparing the two teams' midfields. I do think that the Dynamo midfield can out muscle the Galaxy and bother them with their physical play.
Brian Ching, the Dynamo's captain would love nothing more than to raise the MLS Cup on Sunday night and his strike partner Calen Carr would love to help him do it. Ching is the physical striker than can hold up the ball and control possession, Carr is the creative speedster than can stretch the Galaxy defense and late in the game when everyone is tired, the big Honduran Carlo Costly is lurking on the bench. No Cam Weaver or Jason Garey due to injury, so Will Bruin is the other option off the bench for Kinnear. The Galaxy will counter with the likes of Mike Magee and Robbie Keane, fresh off Ireland's qualification for Euro 2012. Chad Barrett is gone after dislocating his ankle, so both teams are wounded up front. The Galaxy can score goals, but it won't be easy against an improved Dynamo defense and Tally Hall.
Advantage: Dynamo - As good as Keane is and despite the fact Magee is having a career year, I'll take Brian Ching any day of the week to lead my offense in an MLS Cup Final.
The Dynamo have a strong bench giving Kinnear substitution options depending on how the game goes. Carlo Costly and Will Bruin are goal scoring threats that can change the game if called upon. Alex Dixon, Je-Vaughn Watson and Colin Clark (he should be ready to go after an injury) give some flexibility in the midfield and Hunter Freeman is a veteran defender should the need arise to help kill the game late. Bruce Arena can counter with Michael Stephens, Chris Birchall, Paolo Cardozo, Adam Cristman, Frankie Hejduk and Dasan Robinson. It's a good group of players, but let's be honest, it doesn't stack up against to what Kinnear is working with.
Coming on Friday, Zach offers up his keys to the game and explains how the Dynamo can win the 2011 MLS Cup.