Well, the worst case scenario came true. Stanford is hosting the Pac-12 championship game, so MLS Cup can't be held at Stanford Stadium. And realistically, guys? Buck Shaw Stadium was never an option. Still - moving it all the way to the Home Depot Center?! Quakes fans must be PISSED. I had a hook for this MLS Cup preview all set up, because I thought this would be the first MLS Cup where neither team had any players in the season's Best XI. Houston kept their end of the deal, but the voters went with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. (And not Brad Davis, the guy I thought was going to wreck the premise.)
Now is not the time and place to discuss whether honoring a guy who took the first third of a season off is sending the right lesson to our nation's youth, because...well, hey, Keane's coming through when it counts. (But how did the voters know that Keane would be so great in the playoffs?) In the words of Flip Wilson, this is the Church of What's Happening Now. Let us prey.
If you go by the last game the two teams played, you will have noted that the Dynamo got the job done against DC United, and the Galaxy looked disinterested at Seattle. If momentum is your thing, put Houston as a four goal favorite.
What a lot of people are doing is almost as seductive - take last year's game. Consider Houston better, and the Galaxy worse. Adjust score accordingly. Voila, Dynamo 2-1.
I'm hip. Houston didn't see the ball much in last year's game, and Sean Franklin went crazy on the right side. Davis solves both those problems.
Last year the Galaxy started Adam Cristman. Now, he got a horrible rap for missing easy chances in that game, but whoever starts up top can't be as unlucky. The Galaxy have added Marcelo Sarvas and Christian Wilhemsson since then, too. Both have gotten raves as the season has gone on...and they might not even start. Mike Magee isn't a lock to start either. The Galaxy are sickeningly deep from midfield on up, and that's after you take into account Edson Buddle's strenuous (but ultimately futile) effort to steal the MLS Least Valuable Player award from Rafa Marquez.
You can judge for yourself, I suppose, but I simply don't see the Dynamo throwing a shutout - not against Keane and Donovan.
That's the bad news for Houston. The good news is, historically, in MLS Cups, if you score on the Galaxy at any point, you win. So it's not whether Houston can shut out LA - can the Galaxy shut out Houston?
The Galaxy defense doesn't seem to be the cell block lockdown they were last year. Josh Saunders has had a very uneven year on and off the field, and to my eyes Omar Gonzalez isn't back to 100% yet. That, and a choice between a recovering A.J. De La Garza or rookie Tommy Meyer against a Will Bruin who, to say the least, is peaking at the right time...Dynamo partisans have much more reason to be confident.
Even the home field advantage isn't what it was last year - the Galaxy have lost seven games outright at home this year, which was seven more than in 2011. Their most recent home loss wasn't exactly back in June, either - leave it to LA to lose a home game outright in the playoffs, and still make it to the championship.
Which should reassure Houston, because - you know what, let's unload on the negative side. The big reason they finished fifth is, and this may sound wacky, they're a fifth place team. Their best defender is somewhere around Stoke-on-Trent. They played formatball to get to the final, thanks to their own invincibility at home, and they advanced against one of the most injury-riddled teams in playoff history.
(The Soccer Bitch Goddess has been unusually cruel to DC United this fall. Hurricane, snow, depleted rosters, and a general manager fleeing the country. Now they have to rely on Houston to make sure they don't share four-star status with Team Evil. Karma owes them a stadium. And not one in Baltimore, either.)
Anyway - this year's Galaxy is unusually prone to phoning games in at inopportune times. Beckham is certainly looking past Saturday, and Donovan might be. Houston, once again, is being treated like the team in the background of a Beckham poster.
Which, if you believe in motivation, can only help the Dynamo. If the Galaxy win, all the cameras will follow Beckham off the field. If Houston wins, all the cameras will follow Beckham off the field. Kinnear and the Dynamo certainly know this, and might use the rabbit-boiling "I will not be IGNORED" rage to good use.
It's easy to exaggerate Galaxy ennui, though - Simon Borg did, turning Omar Gonzalez saying "This game is the final....It’s where you want to be performing at the top level and I think it’ll definitely hold some water if I do really well. But I’m not worrying about that. I’m worried about the team and worried about winning" into "Gonzalez feels MLS Cup can open USMNT doors."
If Bruin torches Gonzalez all Saturday afternoon, callups might not be forthcoming - but it was Borg, not Gonzalez, who was making it an issue. The bored, distracted, too cool for school Galaxy narrative doesn't need exaggeration, so why is Major League Soccer Soccer trying so hard? It's as if people dislike the Galaxy or something.
Neutral fans should cheer for Houston - oh, you all are already? - because when the Galaxy win MLS Cup, the games are endurance rallies, and when they lose, the games tend to be classics.
Well, fine. I hope the game sucks and you all are miserable afterwards. Galaxy 1-0.