By Andrew Villegas
So, MLS finally got what it wanted all along from this season: High ranking clubs, one from each conference Eastern and Western, fighting it out in the MLS Cup. They just had to move a traditionally “western” city – aren’t they all western in Texas? — into the eastern division to do it.
Oh, and we’re still playing the MLS Cup in L.A. (oh, excuse me, Carson, Calif.) for the 4th time since 2003, and we’re doing it at 9 p.m. on the east coast on a Sunday. It’s not exactly the Super Bowl.
But there is good news, and that’s the widely reported stat that MLS, in terms of average attendance per game, has now surpassed both the NBA and the NHL, nevermind that those leagues each play 82 games per season while MLS teams played 34 this year. P.S. Thanks, Seattle fans, for padding the numbers!
But that’s all beside our point, which is that the top team on the MLS table, the L.A. Galaxy, is playing for the championship, something that will soothe the spirits of single-table and “Supporters Shield winners should be the champions” advocates.
On paper, not many people give a Brad Davis-less Houston Dynamo a chance simply because L.A. has looked like the team they promised to be all along: They have a getting-healthier Landon Donovan who passed on an opportunity to showcase himself internationally against France to win a Cup and David Beckham’s imminent departure has him playing for his legacy in a Galaxy uniform. Robbie Keane’s form too is sparkling.
The game will be a replay of the 2009 Western Conference “Black out” Final that saw the Galaxy beat the Dynamo 2-0 in extra time after an extended break in action because of two blackouts at The Home Depot Center. That Dynamo team had both Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, sorely missed, but this Dynamo team has some rising stars in Geoff Cameron, Will Bruin and Danny Cruz, who will face a stiff test against a steely-eyed Galaxy back line that includes oddly-absent-from-national-team-consideration-but-maybe-not-for-long Defensive Player of the Year Omar Gonzalez. It also has Tally Hall, a solid netminder and MLS All-Star who played every minute – all 3,060 of them — at goalkeeper for the Dynamo this year.
If the Galaxy is the custom oak-doored garage full of fast-performing but temperamental Maserati and Lamborghinis, Houston’s sliding aluminum grease monkey shop is full of reliable, if a bit normal, Honda Civics and Toyota Camrys. And in the end, who you root for is probably indicative of your level of desire for the same. Your heart patters for Megan Fox, but you know nerdy Zooey Deschanel (Who’s that girl? It’s Jess!) is the safer choice in the long run, less prone to angry fits of jealous rage when an autobot comes calling at 3 a.m.
I’m not trying to wage class warfare here, I’m just saying that a large swath of the country outside of California — for that matter, most people outside of southern California — will probably be rooting for Houston come Nov. 20th, and that it doesn’t matter that lately the Dynamo have been the far more successful team: They won back to back titles in 2006 and 2007 and lost in the Western Conference finals in 2008 and 2009. They missed the playoffs in 2010.
The Galaxy haven’t won an MLS Cup since 2005, then they missed the playoffs for three years before making the MLS Cup final in 2009 and winning the Supporter’s Shield in 2010 and this year.
There are lots of little fun things to watch for that the MLS Cup brings: How long before an announcer shoves his foot in his mouth? How many heavy sighs will Alexi Lalas grace us with? Will ESPN mistakenly welcome the casual viewer with phrases like “They don’t use their hands in THIS football”? Will the referee in charge of the action be Toldeo?
But there are serious story lines too: Can Landon Donovan recover his form after going and going and going forever it seems? (Including a long season, a world cup, CONCACAF Champions League, a huge bill of international friendlies and more endorsement deals than you can suck down in a Gatorade bottle.)
Just how will the Dynamo react without Brad Davis, their MVP? We’ve seen how injuries have shaken other teams: Last year’s MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids looked depleted and lethargic as injuries to Conor Casey, Jaime Smith, Drew Moor and Anthony Wallace finally caught up with them before their exit from this year’s playoffs. Either they’ll use Davis’ absence as inspiration or their midfield will crumble under the weight of Juninho, Beckham, Donovan and Mike Magee; either way, it’s a good thing there’s only one game left for them.
But might Davis play? Some Galaxy players are skeptical. If he does, he risks major injury and/or becoming part of MLS lore.
Was it a bellwether year for MLS? Only in hindsight will we have the perspective necessary to answer that question, but the MLS Cup has sold out, and big MLS names are already starting their journeys on training stints in Europe, including Brek Shea at Arsenal and Tim Ream considering his options too.
If the MLS offseason has to be so long, we may as well fill it with conjecture about what next year will bring as the Montreal Impact joins up. (As the French Canadian say: Très Bien!) So let’s hear your offseason predictions. Will Landon go on loan again? Who will join him? Which MLS stars might move in January transfer window?
How will the MLS fare without Beckham when he uses those wings on his back to fly away?
Andrew Villegas is Senior MLS Writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @ReporterAndrew.