We're back with another installment of WTR's preview of Sunday's MLS Cup final between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo. Here's part one, and in this edition, we look at the GKs, the coaches and some X-factors that could play into the game. And before the match, we'll be looking at some of the other story lines that you might want to watch out for...
And so, without further ado...Duncan, Keaton, John and James.
John: LA has not one, but TWO excellent GKs in Donovan Ricketts and Josh Saunders, both of which have a GAA of under 1. Even if they have split the season (Ricketts having played 15 games, Saunders 19) those are still some pretty impressive statistics, and probably one of the big reasons why LA are Supporters’ Shield winners!
Not to say that Tally Hall (1.21 GAA, 99 saves in 34 games) hasn’t held his own, but with two top GKs in their arsenal – LA wins this category handedly.
Duncan: Ricketts and Saunders is a very good combo in goal, I'd have more faith in whichever of them plays than in Tally Hall.
James: Even though LA spent the season alternating between their platoon of Ricketts and Saunders, they get the nod on the night. Saunders, who should start, has been impressive in the postseason, making important reaction saves when the ball seemed destined for the back of the net.
Hall has been great as well, making big saves of his own, and controlling the tempo of the match with solid distributions. It’s a close call, but Saunders’ impossible saves, could be the difference.
Keaton: Tally Hall has done a tremendous job of replacing Pat Onstad. But the advantage goes to the LA Galaxy in this category as well. Josh Saunders has played so well, that even when Ricketts is healthy, he’s now second behind Saunders. Although many might think Saunders doesn’t have much big game experience, I will remind the haters that Saunders actually came in for an injured Ricketts in the 2009 MLS Cup Final. Saunders may have lost that game, but he clearly will know what to expect and be a lot more prepared mentally than Tally Hall.
On paper, I believe Hall and Saunders to be pretty even. They are both solid, and decently young keepers. But Saunders is at home, and playing in his second Cup Final.
John: Bruce Arena and Dominic Kinnear have all been here before, Arena winning with DC United in ’96 and ’97, Kinnear with the Dynamo in ’06 and ’07. But the major difference is Arena has a star-studded lineup with the likes of Keane, Beckham and Juninho; Kinnear does have Ching, Costly and Hainault. Looks like a mismatch on paper, right?
Not so fast – Houston has always overachieved with Kinnear at the helm. The Scot seems to know what is right, and that makes him a wily opponent. And as long as Kinnear is at the helm, count out the Dynamo at your own peril.
Duncan: I might be just saying this so it's not a complete L.A clean sweep for me, I mean it's Bruce Arena, it seems wrong to say he's at a disadvantage here.
Dominic Kinnear though did a great job in neutralizing Sporting Kansas City's attack and overcoming the loss of Brad Davis last week. He's been here many times before, and clearly knows how to get the best out of his team. If Houston is going to have a chance to overcome the 'on paper' disadvantages they face, Kinnear's going to be a huge part of that.
James: If anyone can challenge Bruce Arena for the title of most successful coach in the history of MLS it is Dominic Kinnear. Both know their teams strengths and weaknesses intimately, both will have game plans laced with what-ifs to combat any potential surprises on the night, and both will have their players instructions mercilessly drilled into each individual’s minds.
Even if there is a surprise early goal, neither will panic, nor make the wrong move. Thie one is a stalemate; the players will decide the night.
Keaton: Bruce Arena and Dominic Kinnear are two of the best coaches in MLS, I’m not blowing anyone’s mind in saying that. They have coached some amazing teams, and know the ins and outs of the MLS. Both have won MLS Cups, and I believe that the Arena/ Kinnear matchup is the biggest story line of the game.
I think the advantage goes to Kinnear because he’s shown that he’s capable of squeezing amazing results from a mediocre team. Plus I just love the way Kinnear organizes his side. It will be interesting to see how he deals with Davis being out of the lineup.
John: I don’t really think you can argue against a spotless record at home, and with the Galaxy playing in their own crib with the Angel City Brigade and other supporters backing them, Houston will have a whale of a time trying to get over that one already.
But like I said before – Kinnear is Houston’s ace-in-the-hole. The man knows what to do, and in hostile territory that is a great asset to have.
Duncan: Advantage L.A. Neutral venue? Not so much. Tickets are apparently going for huge prices in L.A right now, so you can guarantee there'll be a packed house cheering on L.A, with a bare minimum of Houston fans trying to make themselves heard. L.A didn't lose a game at the Home Depot Centre all year even when they were technically away, and they'll be very much at home on Sunday.
James: Davis vs. Beckham – The announcement that Davis would not be taking part in the final was made far too early to not be suspicious. Veteran LA defender/coach even noted that they are not overlooking his possible inclusion in the starting eleven.
Beckham has been a monster in this off-season. Should he continue the excellent performances, he could push his side to victory.
Donovan vs. Ching – Which spiritual leader will step up for their side and will them to victory? Both players have had sub par seasons by their own high standards, but each is capable of rising to the occasion in the big match. Whichever leader is more effective, will be raising the cup at the end of the evening.
Atmosphere – With the match taking place in front of Los Angeles’ home fans, and the number of tickets available to the travelling Houston fans being severely limited, will the Galaxy’s dominance at home be a factor, or will this truly be a one-match, winner takes all affair.
Keaton: Juninho is so important to the Galaxy. I don’t want to beat this one into the ground, but it’s so true. Look at how LA plays when Juninho is in the lineup and then watch without him; he allows Becks to get a little more space, and allows Donovan to go even more unnoticed before scoring a majorly important goal late in the game.
Also, Brian Ching. Chingy has a thing for scoring absolutely spectacular goals. And something tells me that if Houston is going to pull off the upset, it’s coming off a Ching header. He may be getting older, but he still could have one more in him.
We'll have a look at some of the storylines that you may be wanting to look for during and after the game...Stay tuned!