"If you wanna crown them, then crown their ass" -- ex-head coach for the Arizona Cardinals, Dennis Green
Those words run deep inside the minds of Houston Dynamo faithful, as their team is a heavy underdog to the Los Angeles Galaxy at the 2011 MLS Cup Final (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPN). Since the Dynamo beat Sporting Kansas City a week and a half ago and punched their ticket to the MLS Cup Final, all the talk has been about how great the Galaxy are and their place in MLS history.
The Galaxy have it all this year. They are the 2011 Supporters' Shield winners -- the team with the best overall-all regular season record. They finished the season with 67 points, second-most all-time in MLS history. The Gals also had the league's stingiest defense, allowing only 28 goals this season.
They're littered with World Cup veterans of past and present, superstars the likes of Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez. Then there's the head coach that knew how to stroke all those egos -- Bruce Arena. His credentials: former US Men's National Team head coach and he won two MLS Cups in 1996 and 1997 with DC United.
And if the Gals didn't need any more advantages, there's also the site of this year's MLS Cup Final -- the Home Depot Center, home of the LA Galaxy, where they are unbeaten this year.
So the question is, how in the hell are the Dynamo supposed to beat the LA Galaxy?
Statistically, the Galaxy were better than the Dynamo this season in both offense and defense. The Galaxy also has a deeper bench, as Arena had to stretch his lineup for MLS play and their deep run in CONCACAF Champions League.
The stats, though, can be a bit deceiving. The Galaxy did what they did this season, that's not to be questioned. What is deceiving are the numbers posted by the Dynamo. The Dynamo come into this final as the hottest team, undefeated in their last nine games (including playoffs). The catalyst for the streak was when head coach Dominic Kinnear moved Geoff Cameron to central defense, and inserted Adam Moffat and Luiz Camargo in central midfield. What that move did, according to multiple players, was define everyone's role.
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When Cameron moved to defense, he helped solidify a backline that was a constant project. He also gave Kinnear a rare weapon, a central defender that can join the attack, keep possession and deliver pin-point passes from the back to create quick counter-attacks. Then there's Camargo and Moffat. It's baffling how they communicate; the Brazilian-born Camargo only speaks Portuguese and Moffat's Scottish-English is a notch or two above Pikey. Yet the two complement each other like no other, sort of like peas and carrots. In this nine-game run, they were great at shutting down the opposing team's best players, they interchanged perfectly between who was going to be the attacking mid and the defensive mid, and they were great at keeping possession.
The Dynamo's biggest advantage will be their size. That will help them when it comes to their bread and butter, scoring goals on set pieces. That's how they beat the Philadelphia Union, that's how they beat Sporting KC. It will be a bit hard without their MVP candidate Brad Davis, who's out with a quadriceps tear, but there are enough able crossers on this team to punish LA if the opportunity presents itself.
If the Dynamo are to beat the Galaxy for the MLS Cup, it's going to take a total team effort. The rejuvenated backline is going to have to play out of their minds. The midfielders are going to have to find a way to track Donovan and all cost, and limit the services of Beckham into the box. The strikers are going to have to be ready for the counterattacks, and make the Galaxy defense pay when they make mistakes. Most importantly, the Dynamo are going to have to make good on set piece opportunities.
It's difficult to say if the Dynamo can pull the upset. If they do, the Dynamo will have their third championship parade in front of City Hall on Tuesday.