MLS Cup Preview: Galaxy, Dynamo set to face off again with everything on the line

MLS CUP 2012
LA GALAXY vs HOUSTON DYNAMO

THE HOME DEPOT CENTER, Carson, Calif.
December 1, 2012
4:30 pm ET / 1:30 pm PT (ESPN / TeleFutura / TSN / RDS)

 

THE MATCHUP

For the second time in Major League Soccer history, the same two teams will meet in consecutive MLS Cups when the LA Galaxy meet the Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center – also the site of the MLS championship game for a second consecutive year.

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A year ago, in front of a record Home Depot Center crowd of 30,281, Landon Donovan scored the game's only goal as the Galaxy claimed their third MLS title. Donovan was named the MLS Cup MVP, becoming the second player in league history to win the honor on two occasions.

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The rematch pits two of the most successful clubs in Major League Soccer history against each other. The Galaxy are competing in the MLS Cup Final for a record eighth time, looking to win their fourth title, which would match D.C. United for the most in league history. The Dynamo are playing in MLS Cup for the fourth time in their seven-year history, after becoming just the second club to win back-to-back titles, in 2006 and '07.

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The Dynamo of course were also involved the last time the same two teams met in back-to-back MLS Cups. In MLS Cup 2006 in Frisco, Texas, the Dynamo defeated the New England Revolution on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes. The following year at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., the Dynamo claimed their second MLS title with a 2-1 win over the Revolution.

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Before last yearís MLS Cup Final, the teams met once previously in the MLS Cup Playoffs – with a trip to MLS Cup 2009 on the line. In a bizarre Western Conference Championship at The Home Depot Center – twice interrupted by power outages – the Galaxy won 2-0 in extra time on goals by Gregg Berhalter and Landon Donovan.

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The teams met just once during the 2012 regular season, on May 26 at BBVA Compass Stadium. Edson Buddle staked the Galaxy to a 10th-minute lead, but an own goal from Mike Magee leveled the score, then André Hainault scored the game-winning goal in the 57th minute.

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In the first season where the team with the best regular-season record is host of MLS Cup, the Galaxy become the fourth team to play MLS Cup on their home ground, and the first to do it twice. The Galaxy were also involved in a third match – winning MLS Cup 2002 on a golden goal in a 1-0 win against the New England Revolution before a crowd of 61,216 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., the largest crowd to see the MLS championship game. In 1997, D.C. United defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-1 before a sellout crowd of 57,431 at RFK Memorial Stadium.

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MLS Cup 2012 will be a meeting of the lowest combined seeds ever to qualify for the championship game, after both clubs started their postseason runs in the Knockout Round. The Galaxy finished fourth in the Western Conference in the regular season, while the Dynamo finished fifth in the Eastern Conference. The previous record was 2010, when FC Dallas finished third in the Western Conference in the regular season and the Colorado Rapids finished fifth (and were seeded third in the Eastern Conference bracket).

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Since the Dynamo came into the league, the all-time regular season series has been very tight. After the Dynamo's win in the lone meeting in 2012, each team has won six games, and four games have been drawn. The Dynamo have scored 19 goals, and the Galaxy have scored 18.

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The Galaxy have defeated the Dynamo in their last five meetings at The Home Depot Center, including MLS Cup 2011. Houston's last win against the Galaxy in Carson came in 2007, a 3-1 triumph.

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The Galaxy will be looking to maintain the dominance of the Western Conference in recent MLS Cups. Since 2001, Western Conference clubs have won nine of the 11 MLS Cups. Only D.C. United's 2004 victory and the Columbus win in the 2008 all-Eastern matchup have broken the West's hegemony. The Dynamo were also in the Western Conference from their inception, until moving to the Eastern Conference in 2011 with the addition of expansion teams Portland and Vancouver.

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Of the last eight MLS Cup Finals, the Galaxy or Dynamo will have played in six. The Galaxy played in 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2012, and the Dynamo in 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2012.

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THE REFEREES

Silviu Petrescu, of Waterloo, Ont., Canada, will be the MLS Cup referee for the first time. The 2012 MLS Referee of the Year, Petrescu is in his seventh year as an MLS referee. He has represented Canada at the FIFA level as a referee since 2002. The assistant referees are Daniel Belleau, of Sainte-Helene-De-Breakeyville, Quebec, Canada, and Darren Clark, of Kamloops, B.C., Canada; both are making their first MLS Cup appearance. The fourth official is Hilario Grajeda of Dayton, Ohio.

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For his 19 league matches in 2012, Petrescu whistled an average of 26.6 fouls per game, sixth-highest in the league (the league average was 24.6). He also gave out 3.1 yellows per game (league average was 3.03), and awarded 1 red card and 1 penalty kick. Coincidentally, Petrescu was also the referee for the only league meeting between the clubs on May 26 in Houston.

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THE HOME DEPOT CENTER

The Home Depot Center is the only stadium to play host to five MLS Cup Finals. In the stadium's inaugural year of 2003, the San Jose Earthquakes defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2, then the following year, D.C. United defeated the Kansas City Wizards 3-2. In 2008, the Columbus Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-1, and the Galaxy won on their home ground a year ago.

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This is the sixth time the final has been played in the greater Los Angeles area, the most of any metropolitan area. MLS Cup 1998 was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, with the Chicago Fire defeating D.C. United 2-0.

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THE COACHES

Galaxy head coach and general manager Bruce Arena is the first coach to lead a team to six MLS Cup Finals. In charge of D.C. United from the outset, Arena led that club to back-to-back victories in 1996 and 1997, before suffering a loss to Chicago in MLS Cup '98, his final MLS match before taking over the US national team for nearly a decade. Arena has now led the Galaxy to MLS Cup three times in four full seasons since taking over during the 2008 season.

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Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear is one of four former MLS players to also win MLS Cup as coach. He is the second coach in MLS history to bring the same club to four MLS Cups, joining Steve Nicol, who did it with the New England Revolution. Including two visits as the chief assistant of the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001 and 2003, this is Kinnear's sixth appearance in an MLS Cup Final, a total matched by only Arena and LA Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan, who was head coach of Chicago in 2001, and an assistant in 1998 and '99 (D.C. United), as well as 2009, 2011 and 2012 with the Galaxy.

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The game will pit the only two head coaches to have led clubs to MLS Cup victories in back-to-back seasons. LA's Bruce Arena did it with D.C. United in the league's first two seasons (1996 and '97), and Houston's Dominic Kinnear did it with the Dynamo in 2006 and '07.

A year ago, Arena became the first man to win three MLS Cups as head coach. Kinnear's two victories are matched by current Seattle Sounders FC head man Sigi Schmid (LA, 2002; Columbus, 2008) and current San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop (2001, '03). Arena and Kinnear are also the only two coaches to have won back-to-back MLS Cups.

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THE TEAMS

With a fifth MLS Cup victory, Landon Donovan will equal the all-time record. A year ago, Donovan joined very select company with a fourth MLS Cup title. Just four other players in MLS Cup history have been on the field for four or more MLS Cup victories: Jeff Agoos (5, 3 with D.C. and 2 with San Jose), Jaime Moreno (4, all with D.C.), Dwayne De Rosario (4, 2 with San Jose and 2 with Houston), and Brian Mullan (4, 1 with San Jose, 2 with Houston, 1 with Colorado).

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Landon Donovan has scored four goals in his five MLS Cup appearances – the most of any player. After scoring the lone goal in MLS Cup 2011, he was named MLS Cup MVP, winning the honor for a second time, also named in 2003 while winning with the San Jose Earthquakes. Only Dwayne De Rosario (San Jose, 2001; Houston, 2007) has won MLS Cup MVP on two occasions.

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Of the 27 players who featured in MLS Cup 2011, only five are no longer with either the Galaxy or Dynamo. Danny Cruz (now with Philadelphia Union) and Geoff Cameron (England) started for the Dynamo, while Carlo Costly came on as a substitute. For the Galaxy, Adam Cristman, who started last yearís final, has retired, while Chris Birchall (now with Columbus) came on as a substitute.

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Just four players remain with the Dynamo from their back-to-back champion teams. Midfielder Brad Davis played the entire match in both 2006 and 2007. Striker Brian Ching was named MLS Cup MVP in 2006, but missed the following season's final through injury. Corey Ashe was in the squad for both finals, while Ricardo Clark was also on the team, but he was suspended for each final.

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Of the Galaxy's newcomers since MLS Cup 2011, three have been involved in MLS Cups in the past. Pat Noonan played with New England in three consecutive MLS Cups from 2005-07, and was in the Columbus Crew squad for MLS Cup 2008. Edson Buddle was with the Galaxy for MLS Cup 2009, and Andrew Boyens was with New York for its run to MLS Cup 2008. For the Dynamo, Ricardo Clark was a member of the Dynamo's MLS Cup-winning sides in both 2006 and 2007, and Macoumba Kandji won MLS Cup 2010 while with the Colorado Rapids.

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Both teams report relatively few injuries heading into the final. The Galaxy will be without defender Leonardo (knee injury) and midfielder Kyle Nakazawa (back spasms), both on the disabled list. Defender A.J. DeLaGarza is listed as questionable with a knee sprain; he last played Sept. 30. For the Dynamo, midfielder Ricardo Clark (adductor strain) and striker Calen Carr (hamstring strain) are both listed as probable. Carr missed two conference championship matches after being injured in the second leg of the Eastern semifinals, while Clark returned to play 66 minutes in the second leg of the East final after missing the first leg.

 

LA GALAXY

Robbie Keane has scored five goals in the MLS Cup Playoffs this season, tied for third-most in MLS postseason history and the most in a single postseason since Carlos Ruiz scored a record eight goals for the Galaxy in 2002. Tied for second-most in MLS history is 6 goals, by Roy Lassiter (Tampa Bay) and Raúl Diaz Arce (D.C. United), both in the inaugural season of 1996.

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Since returning from the European Championships in June, Robbie Keane has scored 19 goals and added eight assists in all competitions. He had 13 goals and 7 assists in the final 19 league games, 5 goals and 1 assist in 5 playoff games, and had 1 goal in 3 games in the CONCACAF Champions League.

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Landon Donovan has 3 assists in the MLS Cup Playoffs this year, his most in a single postseason in 10 appearances. Donovan now has 12 career assists in the postseason, now fourth all-time in MLS history, just two behind leader Mauricio Cienfuegos. Marco Etcheverry and Cobi Jones each had 13 postseason assists.

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Mike Magee has scored three goals in the MLS Cup Playoffs this season, matching his total of a year ago. For his career, Magee has eight playoff goals in 19 games; in the regular season, Magee has 36 goals in 225 games.

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Over the MLS Cup Playoffs run, 14 different players have started for the Galaxy. After Hector Jiménez deputized for Sean Franklin in the Knockout Round match, the back four of Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Tommy Meyer and Todd Dunivant has stayed intact. Of the midfielders and strikers, only Mike Magee and David Beckham have started every postseason games.

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Rookie defender Tommy Meyer has started each one of the Galaxy's five matches in the MLS Cup Playoffs. If he starts in the MLS Cup final, he will become the 14th rookie-eligible player to start in MLS Cup -- the first since Omar Gonzalez started for the Galaxy in MLS Cup 2009.

The complete list (regular season stats shown): Greg Vanney, LA 96 (29GP/24GS/4G/1A); Ben Olsen DC 98 (31/24/4/8); Nick Garcia, KC 00 (32/32/0/0); Carlos Bocanegra, CHI 00 (27/27/1/1); Daouda Kante, NE 02 (8/8/1/0); Alejandro Moreno, LA 02 (12/7/0/2); Jamil Walker, SJ 03 (19/0/4/0); Damani Ralph, CHI 03 (25/22/11/6); Khari Stephenson, KC 04 (3/0/0/0); Michael Parkhurst, NE 05 (32-32-0-0); Ugo Ihemelu, LA 05 (25-23-0-1); Luke Sassano, NY 08 (18-11-0-0), Omar Gonzalez, LA 09 (30-30-1-1)

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A year ago, the LA Galaxy played host to MLS Cup having not lost a single home match over all competitions – a streak they kept alive in the final with a 1-0 win against Houston. But this year, LA has lost twice in their last five matches, including a 1-0 defeat by the San Jose Earthquakes in the Western Conference Semifinals. "It's kind of amazing that we're at home again," David Beckham said. "I still can't get my head around it. ... I still find it strange that we're home again in the final. It's very strange. I'll have to get someone to explain it to me properly – I don't understand it. Obviously, it's always nice being at home in any kind of game, and especially it being an MLS final. It's extra special." Said forward Robbie Keane: "I don't think anybody predicted this was going to happen. It's amazing. I think the chances at the start were very, very slim, so listen, we'll take it. Most important thing is we're in the final. We didn't pick where it's going to be, we just have to keep winning games, and we've done that."

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Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza, who hasnít played since suffering a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee at the end of September, expects to be available for the final. "It's good, almost 100 [percent]," DeLaGarza said. "I'm not limited whatsoever. So no reason I can't play if I'm needed. ... I'm confident. Just getting my rhythm back. This last week has really helped my confidence." Said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena: "We're going to let A.J. get through the week training, see how he holds up. I'm optimistic he'll be able to be part of our team on Saturday."

 

HOUSTON DYNAMO

Will Bruin has set a Dynamo club postseason record with 4 goals this year, his first career playoff goals. The previous Dynamo record-holder was Brian Ching, with 3 goals in 2006.

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André Hainault scored his third career postseason goal in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, all coming over the past two seasons. For his MLS career, Hainault has scored 9 league and MLS Cup goals – 7 of those have come in October or November.

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Brad Davis has three assists this year in the MLS Cup Playoffs, his career single-postseason high. Davis now has eight playoff assists in his career, five over the last two years. Davis missed MLS Cup 2011 with a thigh injury.

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For the Dynamo, 14 different players have started matches this year in the MLS Cup Playoffs. After a two-match absence, Jermaine Taylor returned to the back four in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, restoring the group of Kofi Sarkodie, Bobby Boswell, Taylor and Corey Ashe. Luiz Camargo started one game in midfield in place of Ricardo Clark, while Macoumba Kandji has started two games up top in place of Calen Carr.

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Midfield linchpin Ricardo Clark is battling an adductor strain that threatens to keep him out of yet another MLS Cup. Clark missed the 2006 final due to injury, and the 2007 final to suspension (he was not with the club for MLS Cup 2011). His groin injury forced him out of the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship vs. D.C. United, but he started the second leg before coming off after 66 minutes. "Heís one of the guys that makes the defenders look good because he does all that work in front of you," said defender Bobby Boswell. "He's really good at filling lanes and stuff so your approach to defending can be a little different."

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Another Dynamo player trying to become for MLS Cup is striker Calen Carr. Carr has not played since being forced off after 33 minutes of the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Sporting Kansas City. "He's a good player and was playing great for us in the playoffs before he got hurt," head coach Dominic Kinnear said. "He's a valuable piece of the team. It would be good to have him available in some way. We've missed him but we've been successful without him. I think we're a better team with him." A year ago, Brad Davis suffered an injury in the Eastern Conference Championship vs. SKC, one that kept him out of the final. "He's got a very good opportunity to be back and be 100 percent healthy," Davis said. "I told him, 'Donít put yourself in a position to miss the [MLS Cup], because you'll regret it.'"

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Whether he plays wide on the right of midfield or as part of a three-man central midfield triangle, Boniek García will be a key to the Dynamo fortunes. When he made his first MLS appearance on June 30, the Dynamo had a 5-5-5 record; since then, the Dynamo have gone 11-4-7 in league and playoff games when he's started. "He reminds you of a Christian Gómez or some of those guys that, even at this level, their first touch is way ahead of everyone else's," said defender Bobby Boswell. "Boniek does have that talent that you can't teach, which is the ability to take his first touch wherever he wants it to go. That sets him up to succeed in other parts of the game, and thatís why he's so good and why he's helped us so much."

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Since being given the starting spot at right back on Sept. 6, second-year man Kofi Sarkodie has started 13 of the Dynamo's last 14 games over all competitions, including all five playoff matches. "Defending well is the most important thing back there, but I think he's looked confident, and he's joined in [the attack] well," Dominic Kinnear said. "He's got a good partnership with [Boniek García] out there, and he's been given a chance and played well enough to keep himself in the team." Before being inserted into the first team, Sarkodie had made just three league appearances, all as a substitute, totaling just 65 minutes. "I think gaining momentum with time on the pitch has allowed me to figure out and have a better understanding, tactically, of when I can go forward," Sarkodie said. "I understand more the dynamics of the team. If you know the guys on the pitch and you're there and playing games in and out with them, then you understand their tendencies and when you might have an opportunity to step forward and when itís best to step back."

 

MLS CUP 2012 GAME CONDITIONS

Should MLS Cup be tied at the end of regulation time (90 minutes), a 30-minute extra-time session shall ensue and be played to its completion. If no team holds a lead after that time, the game shall be decided by the traditional 'kicks from the penalty mark' tiebreaker.

 


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