With MLS Cup often proving a tight-knit affair, it takes something different to unlock a stubborn defense or produce that piece of cup-winning glory.
That is why substitutions have been so big in recent years.
Dwayne De Rosario came on to win it for San Jose in 2001. Guillermo "Pando" Ramírez had the game-winner off the bench in 2005 for LA. Just last year, the Rapids brought on Macoumba Kandji and his dribbling run into the box forced an own-goal from FC Dallas defender George John for the decisive blow in MLS Cup 2010.
There is no reason to believe this year will be any different.
LA have an embarrassment of riches in reserve, as experienced defenders such as Frankie Hejduk and Gregg Berhalter are supplemented by exuberant midfielders Chris Birchall, Michael Stephens and Paolo Cardozo. That's not to mention 2010 Goalkeeper of the Year Donovan Ricketts.
One of the keys to clinching the 2011 Supporters’ Shield and advancing to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League was Bruce Arena's ability to spread the minutes as the number of matches and road trips piled up. The Galaxy used 29 different players over the course of the 2011 season.
With LA starting forward Chad Barrett injured for the final, Arena has multiple options. Striker Adam Cristman has been a valuable asset as his size and strength allow LA to play more direct when needed. But Uruguayan midfielder Cardozo could well make the start on the right which would allow Landon Donovan to be pushed up front to partner Robbie Keane, or play behind him.
Houston have used a smaller squad this year — 26 players have seen action for the Dynamo — but look no further than the Eastern Conference Championship for proof that Dominic Kinnear has options of his own. When Brad Davis went down with his quad injury, Kinnear introduced Jermaine Taylor and the Jamaican defender factored in the game-winning goal at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Winger Colin Clark is back to full health and is another candidate to replace Davis if the MLS MVP finalist can't recover in time for the 2011 final.
Up front is where Houston could have the edge off the bench. In addition to the hard-running Will Bruin, Honduran international Carlo Costly could once again get the chance to silence the skeptics who criticized his summer acquisition by the Dynamo. But since finally opening his account against LA in the final game of the regular season, Costly has scored twice in three matches, including the clincher in KC. His pace and power are sure to preoccupy the LA backline.
As big an impact player as Costly can be, we give the nod to the Galaxy's depth with four World Cup veterans.
Edge: LA Galaxy