MLS Cup Preview

So. On Sunday we will see MLS Cup set, hopefully, another viewership record, thanks to the star power of the Galaxy.

Wow, it's only been four years. Feels like four hundred. But now, the Galaxy are back. And, as far as anyone in the mainstream knows or cares, is better than ever. Let's see, how does that speech go?

The Galaxy, whom I consider victors of the tournament. You players who in less than a few hours will be acclaimed champions by millinos of your compatriots. You who have no equals in the terrestrial hemisphere. You who are so superior to every other competitor. You whom I already salute as conquerors.

The Galaxy's opponents, meanwhile, barely existed the last time LA won the title, have a stupid name, don't have any very popular players, and no one is giving them a chance. None of them have ever played a game of this magnitude before. (Edit - except Rimando...and come to think of it, Olave may have had the occasional pressure packed game in freaking Colombia...but still.)

Okay, maybe it's because I'm too close to Hollywood, but ******** this "Hoosiers"/"Rocky"/"Remember the Titans"/ bull****. The Yankees WON in "Bad News Bears," okay? How do you like them apples? SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR UNDERDOGS.

Does NO ONE have any sympathy for Galaxy fans this weekend? One the one hand, David Beckham. On the other, Andy Williams, one of the league's most beloved players, playing for his loved one battling leukemia. I mean, you pretty much gotta be Hitler to cheer for the Galaxy on Sunday.

Oh, well, such is the life I've chosen. What's going to happen, I wonder?

YOUR WEST OF THE SIERRA NEVADA CHAMPION LOS ANGELES GALAXY

Donovan Ricketts
I was wrong about this guy, and if there hadn't been six or eight other forwards doing their Bob Ribgy imitations I'd have looked even wronger than I was. Has the odd six-goal game against, but who among us hasn't? Right now, hotter than Owen Wilson in "Zoolander."

Sean Franklin
Okay, Todd Dunivant falls ill before the Dynamo game, Franklin moves back to fullback, and Los Angeles pitches a shutout. Do you put Sean back in midfield, or do you keep him in the back line? Or do wait to see who among your midfielders are actually healthy, keeping everyone on pins and needles until kickoff? I think Franklin starts in the back, and pushes forward a lot. Arena loves doing that.

Gregg Berhalter
Scenario One is where Findley spends the afternoon blowing by him and Omar, notches a hat trick, and shows a T-shirt reading "That'll Teach You To Trade Me Even Though No One Responsible For Trading Me Is Still With The Galaxy." Scenario Two is where his talent and experience turn good shots into bad shots and bad shots into turnovers. Arena LUCKED OUT with this guy, there's no way Berhalter shouldn't have been this year's Claudio Reyna. There I said it.

Omar Gonzalez
No more rookie passes. If he has anything like the lemon he laid against Chivas in the first game, the Galaxy are Melba toast. Has since followed that up with some freaking manly performances, though. It's impossible to overstate how high we Galaxy fans are on this guy, by the way. As in, give him a shot at Bocanegra's job. (No, not as CAPTAIN. That would be silly. Landon should be US captain.)

A.J. DeLaGarza
I don't think he had the kind of season that warranted being singled out by name by Don Garber, but boy, his not sucking made a lot of things easier. Undersized bantam-type was Omar's teammate at Maryland, which may have made transition to pros a little easier. Which is another way of saying Arena LUCKED OUT - I don't care how damn good a coach you are, or how veteran a leader you have to run marshal - starting two rookies on your back line is asking for trouble, and the next team that tries it is going to finish seventh.

Chris Klein
Well, let's just say he didn't waste his good performances on meaningless regular season games. He was Superman's big brother against Houston, though, and will be fired up against one of his former teams. Beloved by fans, players and coaches, there's no way if the Galaxy win that he'll have the sense to retire on top - he'll just keep playing until someone finally puts a gun to his head and forces him into coaching.

David Beckham
They're saying he's hurt, and I for one couldn't be happier. Also for Galaxy reasons. Economically infeasible to make him the supersub he will/might be for England during the year, but Sunday would be the perfect opportunity. He comes in after an hour, crowd comes alive, the entire world focuses in on what he will do...and while no one is looking someone like Magee scores the winning goal.

Dema Kovalenko
Miglioranzi had a better year, but Migs hurt himself and Dema came through in the playoffs. Has something to prove against Salt Lake, but then again, had something to prove against New York last year, and look how that turned out. Beckerman is familiar with his routine, to say the least. On the other hand, refs probably loath to hand out red cards in the final. If the soccer gods do burden us with the Galaxy Triumphant, it will be because they want to see Dema with a pelvic thrust towards Kreis.

Landon Donovan
If he wins the US Player of the Year award, he will have won three different cars from three different continents this year. (Um, assuming he actually got a Volkswagen from his Volkswagen MVP award.) Blanket coverage has limited his effectiveness in the playoffs to the spot, where he continues to be cash money. I don't really see that changing, so it will be up to one of the guys below to free up some space. Say, what happened to those PSG rumors, anyway?

Edson Buddle
Hasn't had his hat trick yet this year. Tremble in fear, Salt Lake fans. Contrary to John Harkes, Buddle has rediscovered his Red Bulls form. Extremely dangerous until his last touch. Anything resembling last year's form, and Real Salt Lake is cold meat, but right now Olave and company are up to the task.

Mike Magee
Strictly decorative this playoff run, an early frontrunner for the Pando - you know, the guy who comes from freaking Pluto to get the winning goal and be the hero out of nowhere. Pando himself is only slightly less likely to come through at this point than Magee, though.

Alan Gordon, Jovan Kirovski, Eddie Lewis, Todd Dunivant, Stefani Miglioranzi, Chris Birchall, Bryan Jordan, Tony Sanneh, Josh Saunders
Lewis is my sentimental pick to be the Pando Hero Outta Nowhere, but Alan Gordon has played in Seattle a lot as the villain, so he might be the only one as prepared for the pressure as Beckham and Donovan. That said, this is not a good bench.

Bruce Arena
So 2002 wasn't a fluke after all? I mean, this year's performance was so good, it's making us look at 2006 in a new light. 2006! He used a 4-5-1, with the elderly McBride as the 1! He started Keller over Howard! He didn't scout Ghana! And then he followed up the World Cup by spending millions of Red Bull's money to bring the Ghana game's goat to New York! Both Beckham and Donovan tried to flee the country in the offseason! And he was seriously gonna start Sanneh all year!

Intangibles
Sunday night, 8:00 pm local time, Tim Leiweke and David Beckham hug in front of MLS Cup, beaming with victory and vindication. Whether this happens is up to one question - are the soccer gods evil, or just French?

Oh, well. Guess he made a comeback. Sigi did, after all, and ask me about Sigi's 2004 season sometime.

YOUR EAST OF AREA 51 CHAMPION SALT LAKE ROYALS

Nick Rimando
Been here before, after all. And if you ever want to catch a goalkeeper on a confidence bender, check out a guy who has won a PK shootout. "Okay, no way he's going to his left again...aw, crap...." Nuts of steel. Some might say his height will leave Beckham lots of goalmouth to shoot at on free kicks. I don't think he's worried.

Robbie Russell
So all that talk about RSL not having stars? Meet Exhibit A. One of the flood of guys who either left or skipped MLS to go to Scandinavia, has been pretty awesome since coming back. It'll be his job to piss off Beckham, and I think he's up to the task.

Nat Borchers
So does going to Scandinavia help these guys? I remember Borchers on the verge of big things before ditching the Rapids, and he hasn't gotten a national team whiff worth the whiffing ever since. He also wasn't that great for a while after coming back, either. Just an idle thought - he's back to being a killer. He'll be one of those red shirts covering Donovan all evening.

Jamison Olave
Joined RSL in 2008, and the Royals have made the playoffs ever since. The most important Laker, not excepting Morales. If a Galaxy forward beats him, it's because the Beckham or Donovan pass was that damn good, or because the refs were ordered by Garber to red card him in the first fifteen minutes.

Chris Wingert
Makes Robbie Russell look like Ronaldinho. MLSnet tells us his grandfther was a Triple Crown winning jockey, and his father was a Philadelphia Atom goalkeeper (presumably backing up Bob Rigby). His own bio is filled with words like "steady" and "reliable," which basically means he's going to be kicking Donovan all night.

Andy Williams
Didn't quite have the career we thought he'd have eleven(!) years ago, when DC and Columbus had a knife-fight over his rights. Having a great inspirational twilight season in the clean mountain air, and if you're writing the movie he'll score the winning goal. Or, he could be the one burnt when DeLaGarza pushes up out of nowhere. It's a cruel game.

Kyle Beckerman
Okay. You say you're a two-way player, one of the league's elite, and the only things that stands between you and MLS immortality and a clear road to the national team are a Bundesliga has-been, a rookie, and Dema Kovalenko. Time to step up. MLS missed a priceless opportunity to have Kyle challenge Beckham to a Hair v. Hair wager on Sunday's game, if you ask me.

Javier Morales
If you're wondering why Salt Lake dipped to fifth place, look no further than one goal and five assists all year out of Morales. And, if you're wondering how the Royals got this deep in the playoffs, look no further than Morales, who rediscovered the special sauce against Columbus. The dream scenario for Salt Lake is Beckham wandering off on the sideline or in the back, Donovan swamped by the defense, Klein chasing Johnson or Williams for dear life while Kovalenko is stuck deciding whether to cover Morales or Beckerman. ...yeah, why are Salt Lake the underdogs, again?

Will Johnson
Before Chris Sullivan put him into context, with his Inigo Montoya/"Kill Bill" quest for revenge against the Fire, I had three thoughts about Johnson. (1) "Isn't he a forward?" (2) "Doesn't he play for San Jose?" (3) "Isn't he black?" I had confused him for Ryan Johnson. Yeah, so WHAT if he won Goal of the Year last year? ONE freaking goal. You know who had one great freaking goal, Pando Ramirez, right, and no one in their right mind would ever...oh, my God, Johnson's going to score the winning goal, and it's going to be a classic. Crap.

Yura Movsisyan
The nice thing about being an MLS fan is you learn the difference between Rangers and Randers, and it's because of quality players like Yura Movsisyan. Randers clearly has a crying need to have the opposing goalposts hit in TRAGIC NEAR-MISSES in important games.

Robbie Findley
Kinda like Beckerman, as far as larger context goes. The United States is crying out for a forward. Sunday is your audition. Be the ball. Even at the time, this seemed like a stupid trade, and while Klein wasn't washed up, Findley's becoming a serious star. Although maybe Omar Gonzalez is the one due for a national team breakout game.

Clint Mathis, Fabian Espindola, Ned Grabavoy, Jean Alexandre, Tony Beltran, Pablo Campos, Chris Seitz
Or it could be one of these guys. Mathis and Espindola are scarier and more talented than anything the Galaxy can bring off the bench, except when it comes to snapping under pressure, they're David Bowie and Freddy Mercury. Was that joke too much of a reach? Grabavoy is yet another RSL player who is Motivated by Revenge Against a Former Club who Didn't Appreciate His Genius, but we have to draw the freaking line somewhere.

Jason Kreis
Position by position matchups in previews drive me bats. Olave isn't lining up against Berhalter, for crying out loud, he's going to deal with Buddle and Magee. But coaching is head to head. It's a chess match with people, with dozens of factors playing into it. Anyone NOT giving Arena a serious edge here?

Intangibles
Real Salt Lake finished fifth and stunk on the road. Wait, those are tangibles. Okay, try this. Salt Lake may have the sympathy of neutral fans, but having the crowd on your side works much less often than you'd think - especially with the Galaxy.

There's the match-fixing aspect, though, and here's how it would work. "Look at how clean our league is! We let Salt Lake beat Los Angeles and David Beckham! Anyone can win in MLS, star power or no! You could be next, Kansas City, Dallas, Philadelphia, Portland and Vancouver!"

SO WHO'S GONNA WIN?
The douchebag maneuver would be for me to pick Salt Lake. That way, if RSL wins, I can at least say I was right, and if the Galaxy win, I won't care that I was wrong.

And I'm not going to be shocked if we wake up Monday morning under a monarchy, our sidewalks covered with Salt Lake slogans, our teams forced to adopt inappropriate internationalisms, our kids lining up to have ludicrous things done to their hair. (That's this game in a nutshell. The Jamaicans have shaved heads; the big dreads are on a white guy.) I nearly talked myself into a Salt Lake blowout by listing the lineups, and while I was surprised Salt Lake beat Columbus, I wasn't shocked, and I certainly wasn't shocked they beat the Fire.

But Arena is not Hamlett, Donovan is in his prime, and in this post-Henry era I think Kevin Stott will be calling this one tight. Bad news for Dema, worse news for RSL's back line. 2-1, Galaxy, extra time - Buddle, Findley, Donovan (uncontroversial pk). Loser has to drink the products of the winner's nutritional pyramid scheme sponsor.