MLS Cup Showdown: How do matchups break down as LA Galaxy seek fifth title vs. New England Revolution?

Ahead of Sunday's MLS Cup final between the LA Galaxy and New England Revolution (3 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas, UDN in US, TSN1, RDS2 in Canada),'s Alicia Rodriguez breaks down the game position by position, picking who has the edge in every spot.


Jaime Penedo has shown an ability to stonewall opponents since arriving in MLS. He does, however, also have an ability to look shaky and make the wrong decision. The Panamanian was a difference-maker in two of the Galaxy's first four playoff games, but the chance he could struggle has to give New England some hope.



Bobby Shuttleworth has been quite good this season, especially in the playoff run. He may not have the reputation of standing on his head, but he's likely to be tested. If he (and New England's defense) can withstand the pressure, it could be a career-making performance.

All of the Galaxy's likely starters on defense have won MLS Cups before, and the comfort of playing at home should settle nerves for this battle-tested unit. Omar Gonzalez is a two-way threat for LA on set pieces, while Robbie Rogers has looked good at left back. The big question is whether A.J. DeLaGarza will be back in the lineup and where he would play, but the Galaxy's experience should leave them feeling confident.


After an early-season slump, Jose Goncalves has rounded back into form in a big way, and A.J. Soares has been solid. Chris Tierney (who could also play in midfield) is the Revs' offensive threat from the backline, albeit from his role as a set-piece taker. But New England are most likely going to have to withstand LA's waves of attack, and they have not faced an offense nearly as potent as the Galaxy's in the playoffs.

Much like the defense, the uniting attribute of this part of the field for the Galaxy is their experience. Landon Donovan, Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas have all won MLS Cups. Add to that the dynamism of the Brazilians' central-midfield partnership, their chemistry with Baggio Husidic or Stefan Ishizaki in the fourth MF spot and, of course, the context of Donovan playing his final professional game, and the Galaxy have the clear edge.


New England have two counterpoints to LA's well-oiled midfield machine: Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen. The former is the box-to-box wizard who helped the Revs amplify their strengths since arriving midseason, and the latter is the MVP finalist who finally blossomed as a pure No. 10 in MLS. The Galaxy are sure to go after less-experienced holding mid Scott Caldwell, but Jones and Nguyen are both capable of taking over a game, something the Revolution will need if they are going to win the title.

For starters, having the MLS MVP line up on LA's side sure doesn't hurt their chances. Robbie Keane's ability to both score and turn provider makes him one of the toughest strikers to defend in the league. Gyasi Zardes has been quiet in the playoffs, but he's shown he can come to life at any moment. The same also goes for Alan Gordon, who's been perhaps the best substitute in MLS since coming back to the Galaxy in a midseason trade.


On the bright side, Charlie Davies and Teal Bunbury have found their form at the best possible time to help New England make it to MLS Cup. Now playing in a wide midfield role, Bunbury has been part of an MLS Cup-winning side before, though he was hurt for much of Sporting KC's 2013 triumph. New England absolutely must finish a high percentage of t heir chances to stay in contention.

The context of the game will dictate substitutions, but count on Gordon and the non-starter of Ishizaki or Husidic to come off the bench for LA. Besides that, possible defensive subs (Dan Gargan if he doesn't start, Todd Dunivant, Tommy Meyer) all have considerable MLS experience. Overall, the Galaxy have more talent on the bench than the Revs.


Defensive-minded midfielder Andy Dorman and rookie striker Patrick Mullins have frequently come off the bench for New England in the playoffs. While they don't have the name recognition of their opponents, Jay Heaps may opt to move a number of midfielders and defenders around to try and gain a tactical advantage, and he will likely have at least one of frequent starters Kelyn Rowe and Kevin Alston available off the bench.

Going for his record fifth MLS Cup as coach, Bruce Arena has a clear edge over his youthful counterpart. Not only is Arena one of the most decorated coaches in league history, but he's won two MLS Cups with this LA Galaxy team in the last three seasons. Sorry, Jay, but Arena wins this battle in a landslide.


Coaches don't win titles based on their resumés, but based on what happens in the biggest games. Can Jay Heaps manage to get his underdog side the club's first MLS Cup and block LA's (and Arena's) quest for five? It's going to be tough for the third-year coach, but not inconceivable.

How do you think the teams match up? Did we miss an area where New England will have the edge? Let us know in the comments below.

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