In the lead-up to the MLS Cup final (Sunday, 9 pm ET, ESPN, Galavision, TSN2) at the Home Depot Center, in Carson, Calif., MLSsoccer.com is breaking down the matchup. In the first installment, we looked at the benches. Today, we look at the goalkeepers.
The LA Galaxy have an embarrassment of riches in goal. Both Donovan Ricketts and Josh Saunders are accepted starters. But only one can be between the pipes when the final kicks off, and from all indications, that will be Saunders.
That fact shows just how good Saunders has been this year, considering he entered the season as the No. 2 and was deemed good enough by coach Bruce Arena to overtake Ricketts for the top spot. Ricketts, after all, has 85 caps for Jamaica and is the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.
But a broken forearm kept Ricketts unavailable for the majority of the season. He made just 15 appearances and conceded 11 goals.
In his stead, Saunders proved himself worthy of the starting nod. Although Ricketts was healthy, Arena's decision to start Saunders in the playoffs has proved a shrewd move. The 30-year-old boasts a goals against average of 0.89, marginally better than Ricketts', and Saunders has come up big in the playoffs already. His point-blank save on Joel Lindpere in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals was potentially the save of the playoffs and he has looked solid and dependable when called upon.
Houston’s Tally Hall is having a breakout first full season in net for the Dynamo. The 6-foot-4 shot-stopper has been in sensational form and has conceded just one goal in three playoff games so far.
He came up big for the Dynamo against Sporting's lively offense in the Eastern Conference Championship, looking assured and calm throughout. Hall also made a superb late save against Philadelphia in the conference semifinal first leg.
The 26-year-old has certainly grown in stature as the season progressed, playing every minute and being named an All-Star. Although his defense is not the league’s tightest – letting in 41 goals in 34 games at a rate of 1.20 goals per game – Hall adds a monumental presence that gives confidence to his backline. He also doesn’t mind coming for crosses which will diminish the threat of Beckham and Donovan’s deliveries from dangerous areas.
This one is a very close call. But due to the fact that Saunders has enjoyed having the league's best backline in front of him, including Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez and Best XI left back Todd Dunivant, the edge must go to Hall, who has performed admirably even when left to his own devices.
Edge: Houston Dynamo
WATCH: Hall: We're feeling confident