Galaxy play down favorite tag ahead of MLS Cup

Landon Donovan and Geoff Cameron

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CARSON, Calif. — MLS Cup can often be a tense, close affair. The soccer on display isn't always for the purists and one side hardly ever dominates, meaning picking a favorite is sometimes difficult.

Yet, many believe LA are the clear favorites and could dominate from start to finish against Houston in MLS Cup 2011 at the Home Depot Center on Sunday.

Galaxy captain Landon Donovan admits being tabbed as favorites is nothing new to his side.

“We’re always favorites,” Donovan said. “That’s just the way it is, and especially here. We know that teams get excited to come here and play. We’ve been dealing with that all year so that’s not anything new.”

Still, this matchup in particular favors the Galaxy, who pieced together one of the finest regular seasons in MLS history. The club went 19-5-10, piled up 67 points (second all-time to the 1998 Galaxy), claimed the Supporters’ Shield and will be playing the final on their home grounds. LA did not lose this year at the Home Depot Center this year, trailing only once during the regular season while allowing only nine regular-season goals.

Throw in their triumph of Group A in the CONCACAF Champions League and observers will have a hard time keeping their jaw off the floor faced with such a dominant campaign.

Truthfully, the Galaxy would have walked in as favorites against any team. That is particularly true against a Houston side that finished with the seventh-best record in the league. But heavy favorites don’t always win championships. The finest regular-season team in NFL history, for instance, did not win the Super Bowl, as the 16-0 New England Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants.

Galaxy players deal with such expectations by looking at their recent history and learning from mistakes, defender Todd Dunivant said.

“It’s something we’ve dealt with all year,” Dunivant said. “But, at the end of the day, it’s just one game. The second you think you’re owed anything or deserve anything, it’s when you lose 4-1 at Salt Lake or 3-0 at Portland. Those are two good examples for us. Once you think you’ve cracked it and you can just show up, those things happen.”

Galaxy players and coaches are simply focusing on keeping the match in perspective while trying to stay insulated from outside projections.

“Our expectations are that we have to step on the field and play hard in order to win,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “We understand how you’re supposed to prepare to win the game. I don’t think that if anyone expects us to win the game it’s going to affect us one way or the other.”

No matter the expectations, LA said they remain focused on the fact that the match will be played at the Home Depot Center, viewing the setting as motivation instead of one more thing to ramp up the pressure.

“We’re just excited about it more than anything. We love playing here,” Donovan said. “Even on nights when it’s not full, there’s a great energy around the stadium. So you picture what Sunday is probably going to look like, how can you not get excited about that as a player?”