By Evan Ream
This Sunday, the L.A. Galaxy will take on the Houston Dynamo at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. to decide who will win the 16th MLS Cup. This is the second of two team previews. You can find the L.A. Galaxy preview here.
The Houston Dynamo are either the biggest or second biggest underdog in MLS Cup history depending on how you feel about MLS Cup 1997 (D.C. United vs. Colorado Rapids). Houston finished the regular season 12-9-13, good for 49 points and second place in the Eastern Conference, but still 18 points behind the Galaxy. No one was really talking about Houston going into the playoffs, and most assumed that Sporting Kansas City would take care of them in the Eastern Conference Final (it was in Kansas City and it had an extra day of rest). When Brad Davis (second in MVP voting with 4 goals and 16 assists) went down with a season-ending injury, the Dynamo season seemed to be finished as well. Lo and behold, the Dynamo scored two second half goals to reach the MLS Cup for the third time in the franchise’s six years of existence. Now with L.A. at home and their star player hurt, the Dynamo enter the game as huge underdogs, a role they have been playing all season.
Projected Starting XI
Like the L.A. Galaxy, the Houston Dynamo line up in a standard 4-4-2 formation. Their offense is usually built through flank play, utilizing the service of Davis on the left and the speed of Danny Cruz on the right. Unfortunately, Davis is injured. Though Jermaine Taylor replaced Davis in the Eastern Conference Final, I have a feeling that Colin Clark will be his replacement in the final, as he has a history of play well against the Galaxy, although mostly when he was with Colorado Rapids. Up top, Brian Ching and Calen Carr have been getting the starts most of the time. I expect that Carlo Costly will get the start this time though in order to exploit a size advantage on set pieces. The six-foot-two-inch, 187-pound Costly is much more of a physical presence than the six-foot, 150-pound Carr. Still, Carr could get the start, though I think he will be used as a speed option off the bench if the Dynamo are trailing late. Cruz will take his regular place on the right, and in the middle, first-year Dynamo players Adam Moffat and Luiz Camargo will look to continue their surprisingly successful partnership. In the back, breakout left back Cory Ashe will be relied upon to stop the Galaxy counter attacks as well as provide service in the attack. The solid but unspectacular Andre Hainault will continue his role as right back. In the middle, the Geoff Cameron/Bobby Boswell partnership has quietly been one of the best partnerships since Cameron moved to the back late in the season. They will protect breakout goalkeeper Tally Hall.
Brian Ching Carlo Costly
Colin Clark Adam Moffat Luiz Camargo Danny Cruz
Cory Ashe Geoff Cameron Bobby Boswell Andre Hainault
As I mentioned before, Carr will probably be the first player off the bench if they need a goal. If they think they can exploit the Galaxy’s size though, they could also insert the six-foot-two-inch, 194-pound Will Bruin in at forward. Taylor and Je-Vaughn Watson are also both solid options off the bench.
As I mentioned in my Galaxy preview, the Dynamo enjoy a significant advantage in team size. Here are the main players who are going to go up and try to score on set pieces:
Player Position Height Set Piece Goals Regular Season (Playoffs)
Geoff Cameron Defender 6’3” 4 (0)
Bobby Boswell Defender 6’2” 5 (0)
Carlo Costly Forward 6’2” 0 (0)
Brian Ching Forward 6’1” 0 (1)
Andre Hainault Defender 6’1” (2)
Adam Moffat Midfielder 6’0” (0)
In addition, these players are all solid at defending set pieces and will look to take away one of LA’s biggest advantages in David Beckham.
The Dynamo goalkeeper enjoyed a breakout season this year as just the second starting goalkeeper in franchise history. Hall finished second in saves to Goalkeeper of the Year Kasey Keller, only trailing by two saves. In addition, he posted a 1.14 Goals Against Average, good for sixth place among keepers who started more than half of their team’s games. Hall has been a rock this season, playing every minute for Houston including playoffs. If they’re going to upset the Galaxy, they will need Hall to stand on his head as he has done so many times this season.
The Cameron/Boswell partnership is one of the strongest in the league. The Dynamo started their playoff push when head coach Dominic Kinnear finally made the move to switch Cameron to the backline. As far as all partnerships in MLS go, I would probably rank this one only behind the Jamison Olave/Nat Borchers partnership in Salt Lake. In addition, these two players combined for ten goals this year, both tied for the team lead with five. Both players are dangerous going forward and great finishers for defenders.
Both Moffat and Camargo have been good this year. The problem is that L.A.’s central midfield is great; the Dynamo’s is only good. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the game, the Dynamo went to a 3-5-2 like they did in the 2007 MLS Cup against New England in order to try to get an extra man in the middle to disrupt the David Beckham/Juninho partnership. Doing so could win the Dynamo the game, or it could lose them the game, as L.A. would be even more dangerous on the counter. No matter what they do, this central midfield isn’t going to be good enough to get it done.
Hall has stood on his head at times during the season but he has also committed some howlers, to be expected of any 26-year-old goalkeeper. Which Tally Hall will show up in the final? So far in the playoffs, he has been stellar, allowing just one goal in 18 shots, but this will be the biggest game in his career. Will he play out of his mind or pull a Kevin Hartman in 1999 and give the game away?
The Team is the Star
Sometimes it’s good when a team plays as a team and has no ego and no star. When it comes down to it, this Houston team does not have one guy that they can truly rely on. They could rely on Davis until he went down with an injury, but now it looks like the responsibility is going to rely on the 33-year-old Ching, who hasn’t played in more than 20 games in the last three years due to injuries. Ching’s body has broken down from years of physical play, and he can no longer be relied on to lead a team. When it comes down to crunch time, every team has a player that they can rely on. The great Dynamo teams of 2006 and 2007 had Dwyane De Rosario and a much younger Ching to rely on. This team has no one.
Coming Tomorrow: Game Prediction