This coming Sunday, the 2011 MLS Season will be capped off with the Cup Final held at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles between the David Beckham led LA Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo.
What might turn out to be an interesting match is going to be well overshadowed in some quarters by the circus that always surrounds “Brand Beckham”. The newspapers over here (those that care about the sport) will be filled with “…Is Becks staying or leaving…” articles. Some UK journalists of the “always condescending to MLS” ilk will of course likely descend on Los Angeles and probably bleat about the impending doom for our league if Becks takes Posh and the boys back across the pond to Europe, will likely sneer at the “sawker” on display and take a cheap shot or two at the whole event on the way back to the free buffet in the press box.
Sadly what might turn out to be a pretty interesting game could very well be overshadowed by all the noise coming from off the pitch. I truly hope that does not happen because there are a few stories on the field this Sunday that are well worthy of discussion. Here are some things to keep in mind about the game itself.
Becks Has Been Masterful
The football David Beckham has played this season, and particularly in this playoff run for the Galaxy has been worthy of a player of his ability and pedigree. His superb cross field passing and laser like crosses have both opened up his teammates into space time and again and led to a number of goals including last week’s game winner that vaulted LA into the final. Last game or not if Beckham is the star of the game and lifts the MLS Cup Sunday it would be a fitting end to what was his best (and only) full season of play in North America.
Canadian defender Andre Hainault turned down a call up from the Canadian National Team this past week to focus on helping his Houston Dynamo get to the Final. He has used his 6 ft 2in frame excellently on set pieces in the playoffs scoring two critical goals down the stretch including a header in the conference final in Kansas City that catapulted the Dynamo into the final. He is a big mobile defender who could very well give the Galaxy fits on set pieces Sunday night.
The Supporting Cast
Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are not exactly low profile guys. They definitely both have in them game breaking abilities in the form of pace and skill around the net to score goals and I would look for them to be fed the ball from Beckham and fellow midfield star Juninho. The Galaxy back line are far and away the best in MLS with Omar Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant in particularly looking real strong in recent games.
Kinnear vs Arena
Dominic Kinnear and Bruce Arena are two of the best coaches to have ever worked in MLS. Kinnear won the Cup with Houston in back to back years in 2006 and 2007 and has yet to lose the big game. Former US International manager Bruce Arena has also won the trophy twice and has guided his Galaxy to the top of the regular standings in MLS over the past two seasons. There is perhaps only Sigi Schmidt at Seattle who can rival either of these two in skill and pedigree in this league.
Small Market vs Hollywood
Houston is one of only a few MLS clubs not currently taking advantage of the Designated Player rules that the Galaxy have used to pay Beckham, Donovan and Keane their multi-million dollar salaries. The Dynamo have primarily relied upon the US college draft system and shrewd signings of players “on the cheap” to compete with the big boys in MLS and find a way stay in the fight and eschewed signing the big names from overseas. Whether it turns out to be a Wimbledon v Liverpool FA Cup style upset on Sunday or will home field advantage and the sheer quality and experience on the LA side of the ball mean that the prohibitive favourites will hoist the Cup remains to be seen. In any case don’t let the press fool you. There are more stories going on that just if Beckham is heading back to Europe after the match.
Tim Drodge is a Toronto Canada based blogger who writes about all things Toronto FC on his blog at http://viewfromthesouthstands.com . You can also follow Tim on Twitter @bgnewf