It’s Thursday, November 17th. In less than four days, we will crown the 2011 Major League Soccer Cup Champions. Here are some topics that have impacted over the last day or three:
MLS Cup 2011
As mentioned above, MLS Cup is fast approaching now (November 20, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN in HD and ESPN3). The match will be played at the Home Depot Center, a neutral field in original intent only. The Los Angeles Galaxy will undoubtedly be the object of the crowd’s affection, as they go toe-to-toe with the Houston Dynamo. Both teams are owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, but are starkly contrasted by two major points: big names, and the salary they command. The Galaxy are led by America’s most recognizable soccer figure, Landon Donovan, as well as one of England’s greatest table-setters of all time, David Beckham. Midseason they acquired another pricey international, Ireland’s Robbie Keane. With all of these flashy players keying the attack, Los Angeles has been more remarkable for their defensive prowess. In winning the Supporters Shield for the second season in a row, the Galaxy finished with the fewest goals allowed in MLS, even though they conceded two more than in 2010. With a backline led primarily by MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez, the Galaxy are a tough nut to crack, especially once you’ve fallen victim to a Beckham set-piece.
On the other side, you have Houston. Should I say more? Of course, but sometimes this is how it feels in the press. The Dynamo are not the sexy pick, but they are a team that will be dangerous opponents for the League leaders. They are actually not that dissimilar in playing styles from the Galaxy, albeit with less overall efficiency in 2011. Defensively they are good, with Geoff Cameron being a standout centrally this year. They also have one of the bright young goalkeepers in the league in Tally Hall. Like LA, Houston relies heavily on the set-piece, and this is a concern since they will be without Brad Davis, who has excelled in delivering inch-perfect crosses all season. But if there’s ever a team who might have a point to prove, it’s Houston, with their big brother getting the majority of the spotlight. One other quick fact: they have won the Cup more recently than the Galaxy.
My prediction for the match: the Galaxy need this Cup more than Houston. While Houston certainly has a shot, I think the Galaxy finally cash in on their investment, and finally earn Coach Bruce Arena the aptly-named Philip F. Anschutz Trophy, 1-0 in a nailbiter.
MLS Most Valuable Player
If I’m correct, the only award that has yet to be handed out by the league is the MVP, which will be announced on Friday. The Finalists are DC United’s Dwayne DeRosario, Houston’s Brad Davis, and Brek Shea from F.C. Dallas. For me, I can’t see how DeRosario misses out on this, except for the fact he was traded twice this season. Even with that being accounted, DC would have had little chance being considered in the playoff hunt this season if not for DeRosario’s superb second half. While Davis was stellar and Shea had his breakout year, DeRo settled in at RFK after a short, turbulent period with the Red Bulls and pulled them within striking distance of the Playoffs. Honestly though, I think we can all feel thankful (especially MLS) that a certain Southwestern team that will remain nameless had no players in the final balloting (see Robert’s opinion article here).
In other Houston news, the Dynamo recently shared that the steel canopy for their new stadium in the downtown area is complete, and they remain on schedule to open the new park on May 12, 2012. I’m sure that they’d love to have the “inconvenience” of finding room on the U-Haul for a third MLS Cup as they shift operations to the new hub.
Tuesday saw Jurgen Klinsmann’s European Vacation take his squad into Ljubljana (just don’t ask me to pronounce it) to take on the Slovenian National Team. The Americans scored three times in the first half, and held on for the 3-2 victory. Edson Buddle and Clint Dempsey both grabbed goals from the run of play, while Jozy Altidore stepped to the spot to convert a penalty after Fabian Johnson was fouled in the area. Tim Matavž nabbed both tallies for the Slovenians. After some irritating defensive struggles in previous matches, this result was a veritable downpour of offense.
Finally, one other bit of USMNT news. It was announced yesterday that the US will begin it’s World Cup Qualifying run on June 8th against Antigua & Barbuda. The match will be on American soil, although no venue has been confirmed at the time of publication. This is how their Group A play will shake out next year:
June 8 – Antigua & Barbuda
June 12 – at Guatemala
September 7 – at Jamaica
September 11 – Jamaica
October 12 – at Antigua & Barbuda
October 16 – Guatemala
The US will need to finish in the top two of Group A to advance into what is known as the CONCACAF Hexagonal. That is a grueling six-team double round-robin play-in, from which the top 3 finishers will automatically advance to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The fourth place team then has the opportunity to face the winner from the Oceania Football Confederation to earn a final spot for CONCACAF in the World Cup.