Will Deja Vu Cup favor Galaxy's stars?

Posted by Jeff Carlisle

As Saturday's MLS Cup final approaches, the similarities to last year's match are borderline uncanny. For the second year running, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo will face off in the same venue, the Home Depot Center. Once again there are questions about David Beckham's future, although it's now known that this will be his last game in Galaxy colors. Even the weather forecast -- rainy, though not too cold -- looks to be the same.

For those reasons, they might as well call it the Deja Vu Cup, and given that L.A. prevailed 1-0 in last year's match, the Galaxy would like nothing better than a repeat performance. Thanks to an epic run of form stretching back to July, that is a distinct possibility.

But given the changes Houston has undergone in the last year, there is little likelihood that the game will play out in a similar fashion. On that occasion, a paucity of attacking threats forced the Dynamo into a defend-and-pray approach.

Not so this time. Dead-ball specialist Brad Davis, injured a year ago, is back to full health. Ricardo Clark, a mainstay on the Dynamo's championship sides of 2006 and 2007, returned to the club midway through the campaign and is once again patrolling the Houston midfield. Will Bruin has matured into one of the league's elite strikers, while another midseason acquisition, Oscar Boniek Garcia, has added an additional creative element that prevents teams from clamping down exclusively on Davis.

"Garcia and Davis, they're not always going to be matched up [against our outside backs], but certainly, if we're going to be successful against Houston we need to do a good job against those players," said Galaxy manager Bruce Arena.

The fact that Houston will contest this final on more equal terms sets up a slew of interesting matchups. The movement of L.A. forward Robbie Keane has flummoxed more than one opponent during this postseason, and whether it's one of Bobby Boswell or Jermaine Taylor following Keane into deep positions or passing him off to a midfielder like Adam Moffat, the Irishman will test the cohesiveness of Houston's backline. The interplay between Keane and Landon Donovan -- who might be playing his last game for the Galaxy, as well -- will also challenge the Dynamo defense.

"I think we have to play these guys physical," said Houston manager Dominic Kinnear. "You can't let them get comfortable. ... [Keane] and Landon [Donovan], they can mesmerize you with their movement and touches. You can't be nice out there with these guys. I'm not saying go out there and boot them, but you have to make sure their movement is met with pressure, and they can't get free runs at anything."

That is also true of the ubiquitous Beckham. He might not be as mobile as he once was, but he can still tear defenses apart with his precision passing from long distance. The ability of Clark or a forward like Bruin to at least disrupt Beckham's rhythm could go a long way toward containing the vaunted L.A. attack. But if Beckham shakes free, then it could allow outside backs Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin to get forward so much that Davis and Garcia could spend too much time defending and not enough in the attacking half of the field.

"That's the plan," said Franklin of his pending matchup with Davis. "But it's all about being smart and picking and choosing when to go forward."

Such decisions will likely determine whether the game will be won or lost, even as Davis and Garcia tuck into central positions. Houston must get impactful games from this duo, otherwise L.A. will own the ball and it will only be a matter of time until the home side breaks through. But one wild card for Houston is forward Calen Carr, whose diagonal runs into wide areas could have the effect of forcing Franklin and Dunivant to stay home. If that comes to pass, then advantage Houston.

Yet the fact that L.A. is playing at home makes this the Galaxy's game to lose. The urge to send Beckham -- and perhaps Donovan -- out on a winning note will be strong as well, though not so strong as to distract L.A. from the job at hand. Arena even found time to joke about any possible departures, telling with the assembled press to "go hold your funerals somewhere else. We're playing a game on Saturday. We're not worried about any of that stuff really."

Neither is Beckham, although he's very much aware that after Saturday, his time with the Galaxy will be up.

"My mind is set now," he said at Thursday's news conference. "I believe I've done everything I can."

That is, except win one more game.

Notes

• Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza has been sidelined since injuring his knee against Colorado on Sept. 30, but pronounced himself "90 percent" fit following Thursday's training session. Arena confirmed DeLaGarza's assessment, saying that his defender was "ready to play." But the Galaxy manager remained coy about whether DeLaGarza would replace rookie Tommy Meyer in the starting lineup Saturday. Meyer has shown immense improvement over the course of the season, and his growth has accelerated during the playoffs. For that reason, it seems unlikely that Arena would risk playing someone in the back that hasn't seen the field in two months, so expect Meyer to retain his spot.

• Tally Hall might not have received many goalkeeper of the year votes, yet he still managed to put up some impressive numbers. His 12 shutouts -- a team record -- tied him for second-most in the league with Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando, while his GAA of 1.19 was fifth-best in MLS. But you won't hear Hall complaining about flying under the radar.

"You look at Chivas and Dan Kennedy, and he comes up with amazing saves every game," he said. "That's his role. ... I don't feel like that's my role on this team. I don't make many saves compared to other keepers in the league. For me, that's fine. I try to make the team stronger. Sometimes I do that by making saves. Sometimes I do that coming out for crosses. Sometimes I do that by giving information to defenders and letting them defend. If I never face a shot, that's the best day on the job for me."

• San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski was named the league's MVP in a ceremony at the Home Depot Center on Thursday, and after a season that saw him net a record-tying 27 goals, the award was well-deserved. There has been some speculation that Wondolowski will ask San Jose management for a steep raise. He was paid $300,000 in 2012, a bit below the designated player threshold of $350,000. But Wondolowski looks to be taking a low-key approach to the negotiations, and admitted he still does not have an agent. Like he has in the past, he's opting to negotiate a new deal himself with manager Frank Yallop, GM John Doyle and the team's owners.

"We'll just kind of sit down and have a man-to-man talk just to kind of see where we are and the whole situation and see what happens," he said.

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