CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane is healthy, sharp, and ready to pester the Houston Dynamo defense when the two teams collide in the MLS Cup final on Sunday night. (9 pm ET; ESPN, Galavisión, TSN2; live chat on MLSsoccer.com)
“After being injured and coming back and playing my sixth game in two-and-a-half weeks or so, it’s been tough,” Keane said after the Galaxy’s training session on Friday. “But each game I feel stronger and stronger and I think that showed in my performances as the games went on.”
But after seeing the Irish striker pressure the Real Salt Lake defense and score a goal in the Western Conference Championship, the Dynamo defenders are on high alert and know very well what they’ll have to deal with.
“[He’s a] great finisher,” said Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear after the Dynamo trained on Friday. “I remember watching him play in a game here and the ball was wide and he probably made three or four runs in the span of 10 seconds to kind of get himself free. For me, and for any young forward, if you want to watch movement in the box, he’s the guy you look at.”
Added Houston center back Geoff Cameron of the Irishman, “He wants the ball, and that’s one of the things you have to be worried about. You always have to be looking over your left and right shoulder; there’s always going to be pressure.”
Although this will be the first time that Houston will take on LA with Keane in the lineup, the Dynamo are prepared to cope with the striker, mainly by ensuring that the team closes the space, that the back four move the ball well among them, and that the team builds the attack slowly from the back. That should also help limit the Galaxy’s vaunted counterattack.
“They’re a really good passing team, they can counterattack very quickly,” said Cameron. “The spacing and whatnot to slide those balls through will be key for us to cut down. I think if we put pressure on them, it’ll make it tough [for them] to play.”
While the Dynamo are cognizant of the fact that Keane will be one of the Galaxy’s most dangerous weapons, they also know that they can’t focus solely on containing just him.
“They have a whole team of guys that are ready to play,” said center back Bobby Boswell. “I think everyone focuses on a couple of their guys, and that’s why you’ve got Mike Magee scoring a lot of goals. They’ve had a lot of other players who have had great years because it’s hard to focus on any one guy when you have a whole team playing well.”
The trick, then, will be to do what they’ve been doing best for over the last two months, a span that has seen Houston go unbeaten over nine games.
“We’ve been playing great team defense, from the forwards to the midfielders to the defenders, and Tally [Hall] has been great in goal,” Boswell said. “So hopefully we have another day of that, just another great team defensive effort. I think if we can frustrate them and make the game a little loner, keep them off the scoreboard or score first, it helps our chances a lot.”