Scouting Report: MLS Cup
As the great Yogi Berra once said, "It's like deja vu all over again".
The Yankee legend wasn't talking about soccer, but his famous phrase certainly applies to MLS Cup 2012. On Saturday, Dec. 1 (4:30 p.m., ESPN, Telefutura) the Los Angeles Galaxy will host the Houston Dynamo in a rematch of last year's final at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
It was extremely unlikely that the fourth seeded Galaxy or fifth seeded Dynamo would even get to the final, let alone make this rematch possible. Los Angeles gutted out a comeback win against Vancouver, then put together back-to-back blowouts against San Jose and Seattle. Houston beat Chicago on the road, then dispatched Kansas City and D.C. United in impressive fashion.
The publicity surrounding the final skyrocketed when David Beckham announced that this would be his last game after six years in Major League Soccer. Becks hasn't announced where he'll play next year.
On the other side, Houston is coming into the game at full strength. The Dynamo are playing phenomenal football and will be at or near 100 percent health at first kick.
Keys for the Galaxy
Bruce Arena has a number of tactical decisions to consider ahead of the final.
First – should Landon Donovan play as a striker, or a midfielder?
The Galaxy have arguably been at their best when Donovan plays up top with Robbie Keane. The link-up play between the two designated players is excellent, and it's a big reason why Keane ended up with 16 goals this season and 5 goals in the playoffs.
The other option is to pair Edson Buddle with Robbie Keane, and put Landon Donovan on the wing. This is a more limiting option in the midfield. One would assume that Beckham and Juninho start in the central midfield, with Mike Magee on the left side. That would mean that Marcelo Sarvas and Christian Wilhelmsson begin the game on the bench.
There are questions defensively too, with A.J. Delagarza set to return after a long injury spell. The Maryland product could return to central defense with Omar Gonzalez, which was the pairing that shut down Houston in last year's final. Arena has used rookie Tommy Meyer as Delagarza's replacement, so he'll have to decide whether to stay with the solid youngster, or re-insert the more experienced, albeit rusty, Delagarza.
Expect to see Todd Dunivant at left back, with Sean Franklin on the right. At times, Franklin has played right midfield this year, but Los Angeles has better options in that position.
Keep in mind that LA is playing in their home stadium on Saturday. The Galaxy should come out with an attacking lineup in their own house.
Probable Starting XI for Los Angeles (4-4-2)
Saunders (GK), Dunivant, Gonzalez, Meyer, Franklin, Beckham, Juninho, Magee, Sarvas, Donovan, Keane
Keys for the Dynamo
The biggest positive for Houston is the availability of Brad Davis, who did not play in the 2011 final. The addition of Davis' passing and set piece delivery gives the Dynamo a midfield threat that just seemed to missing last year.
You've also got the stellar play of sophomore striker Will Bruin, and newcomer Oscar Boniek-Garcia. Bruin is no-doubt Houston's post-season MVP with four goals and an assist in five matches. He's played his best soccer of 2012 in these playoffs. Boniek-Garcia brings everything to the table – speed, creativity, vision, and the ability to take on defenders. He's been one of the best signings of the season and really kickstarted the Dynamo attack.
The biggest topic surrounding Dominic Kinnear's team in 2012 is the tactical switch to the 4-3-3. For ages, Houston had been a basic set piece and long ball team, relying on Davis, Brian Ching, and a staunch defense to wear down other teams. But they switched to a 4-3-3 in the middle of the year and started to play a more free-flowing, attacking style.
Maybe the best part about Houston is that they can change tactically throughout the course of the game. Boniek-Garcia, Bruin, Mac Kandji, and Calen Carr have skill-sets conducive to the 4-3-3. But if you need to go for a more direct approach, you can bring in Ching and Cam Weaver and switch to a 4-4-2. This was something we saw when Houston was fighting through the Champion's League group stage. Kinnear was able to use his depth effectively, deploying the 4-4-2 in CONCACAF play while keeping the 4-3-3 in league play.
The issue now is whether Houston starts in the 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 on Los Angeles' home turf. It might rely on the injury status of Ricardo Clark, who anchors effectively in the central midfield. Adam Moffat is the other key figure in the center of the park.
Defensively, Houston is rock solid. You've got an all-star goalkeeper in Tally Hall, and big central defenders in Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor. Fullbacks Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie are very mobile and add to the Dynamo attack.
Probable Starting XI for Houston (4-3-3)
Hall (GK), Ashe, Boswell, Taylor, Sarkodie, Moffat, Davis, Clark, Boniek-Garcia, Carr, Bruin
Contact Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @philunionkevink