2011 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

MLS Cup 2012 preview: Houston Dynamo vs. L.A. Galaxy


CARSON, Calif. – When is the actual result of an MLS Cup final very nearly reduced to a subplot? When the illustrious David Beckham has made it his MLS finale.

And it is quite possibly Landon Donovan’s MLS curtain call, too.

Global soccer’s most iconic figure of the last two decades concludes his six years in Major League Soccer in the league’s 17th MLS Cup. Beckham, 37, has already announced that he will take his preternaturally gifted right foot – is there one more free kick goal in that pricey boot? – and perform elsewhere after Saturday, if only for a short duration.

And what to make of Donovan, the 30-year-old attacker who is the national team’s all-time leading scorer (and on a march to be Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer), but who seems a little beaten by it all and keeps dangling the notion of retirement?

And we haven’t even gotten to the Houston Dynamo, a humble and hard-working club that tends to grind out playoff results like no other. The Dynamo, steered so ably by smoothly demanding coach Dominic Kinnear, is in its fourth MLC Cup in seven years.

Houston fell to L.A. in this same matchup last year, 1-0.

Don’t forget, this is the first final played under new MLS playoff rules that award host duty to the finalist with the best record. So the big home field edge goes to the Galaxy – never mind that the weather in Southern California looks and feels a lot like we’re all in rainy Seattle.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s final predictions:)

Saturday’s kickoff: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif., 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Telefutura

On the Houston Dynamo

  • The game has a chance to look a lot like last year’s, when the Galaxy squeezed out a 1-0 win in a meeting of the very same teams. In the very same building. With roughly the same weather. So it could once again be frustratingly cautious, as finals tend to be. Plus, both teams are good at waiting out the other fellow, careful not to make a mistake while waiting to pounce on one.
  • On the other hand, this is a very different Houston Dynamo team. Added since last year’s final are right-sided attacker Oscar Boniek Garcia and ground covering midfield specialist Ricardo Clark. Plus, the team’s four-time MVP, Brad Davis, will be on the field this year. Last year’s loss came as Davis watched from the sideline, injured.
  • Somewhat forgotten is that Houston also played the 2011 final with four center backs across the defense. Andrew Hainault was on the right, Jermaine Taylor on the left; both were in fill-in capacity due to other injuries. Thus, Houston’s ability to attack up the flanks was severely pinched.
  • So the Dynamo has the opportunity to apply far more pressure on L.A. this year. “We should be a lot more aggressive this time,” midfielder Adam Moffat said. “Last year, we created very few real chances, to be honest.”
  • Kinnear’s men are as healthy as they’ve been in a long time. Clark and Moffat, the preferred central midfielders, are training at full capacity after some recent injury worries. Calen Carr is back on the field, too, giving Kinnear a more pacey option for selection at forward.
  • Striker Will Bruin has four playoff goals, just one behind MLS post-season leader Robbie Keane.
  • You cannot talk about the Dynamo without mentioning how dangerous Davis and his pinpoint set piece deliveries have been for years. In most estimations, the veteran lefty is the second best restart specialist in MLS – after Beckham.
  • Davis has contributed directly (scored or assisted) on 20 Dynamo goals over each of the last two years.

(MORE: Oscar Boniek Garcia’s potential impact)

(MORE: Houston Dynamo 2012 vs. 2011 – not even close)

(MORE: Brad Davis says MLS Cup 2012 is not about revenge)

(MORE: Deconstructing the Houston Dynamo success)

On the Los Angeles Galaxy

  • Said Beckham, about the run-up to his final MLS contest: “It’s been an enjoyable week…. I am quite an emotional person. I know I will feel more emotion probably the day of the game. Maybe the night before the game. But I am really excited about the game itself. To be in third MLS Cup final, especially one being played in our own stadium, I am excited. And it’s going to be special.”

(MORE: David Beckham says goodbye to MLS)

  • Beckham has evolved into more of a support player this year. He can still ping the pretty passes accurately over 60 yards, and the Dynamo players know so. Clark will be tasked with applying early pressure on the former England captain. Beckham will idle a little deeper in the midfield, not making quite as many thrusts forward, not quite as many overlapping runs around the right side, etc. Whereas last year he was more a “playmaker-distributor,” this year’s Beckham’s role is more “distributor-playmaker.”
  • Donovan, as he has most of his career, has lined up recently as an outside midfielder or as a second forward alongside Irish international Robbie Keane. It’s mostly about whether Galaxy coach Bruce Arena prefers midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson or forward Edson Buddle in the starting lineup; Donovan will fill the other spot.
  • Arena has a choice to make at center back, where rookie Tommy Meyer or far more experienced A.J. DeLaGarza will start alongside commanding center back Omar Gonzales. DeLaGarza is training now but has not played in two months.
  • Mike Magee has become “Mr. November,” so nicknamed for his tendency to contribute the big playoff goals. His late runs into the penalty area from the left side tend to be expertly timed.
  • And speaking of movement around the penalty area, Keane’s choices on where to go find the ball and his ability to create defensive confusion over the last two or three months has been as good as any forward in MLS. Ever.
  • Keane (16 goals, 9 assists) and Donovan (9 goals, 14 assists) were MLS Best XI selections. Gonzalez almost surely would have been but for missing half the season through injury.
  • Is this the “last hurrah” for a uniquely starry Galaxy side? Donovan said they aren’t thinking about that. “Any team from year to year has lots of turnover. That’s the way sports are. That’s the way other leagues are. So we’re just excited about the game tomorrow. Not many teams have a chance to do what we have a chance to do, and we want to make the most of that.”
  • L.A. is attempting to become the first back-to-back league champions since Houston won in 2006 and 2007.

(MORE: Which version of the Galaxy shows up Saturday)

(MORE: David Beckham’s pre-match press conference)

(MORE: The Galaxy’s center back choice)

(MORE: Donovan mum on his future)

(MORE: Comparing Galaxy 2011 vs. 2012)

Bottom line:

A Galaxy team with Beckham, Donovan and Keane at full rev, with Gonzalez properly policing the back line, would be extremely difficult to beat, especially at home. But all of that has not happened consistently in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Kinnear-coached teams know just how to reach that final gear in the post-season. They managed to make things very hard on the Galaxy in last year’s final despite being severely under-strength.

Houston can expect to create a few chances. So will Los Angeles, with Keane at the tip-top of his game. Look for a close and fairly cautious match – and don’t be surprised if this one is 1-1 after 90 minutes, needing an extra 30 minutes and possibly even penalty kicks to declare a winner.

La Liga: Real Madrid win late, stay top; Atleti lose to Sevilla

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 23: Alvaro Morata of Real Madrid CF celebrates scoring their second goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Athletic Club de Bilbao at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 23, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Coach Jorge Sampaoli felt Sevilla needed a big win against a top opponent to establish itself as a true contender in Spain.

He got just that on Sunday as his team defeated previously unbeaten Atletico Madrid 1-0 to stay near the top of the Spanish league.

French midfielder Steven N’Zonzi netted the winner in the 73rd minute at a packed Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium to give the hosts their third straight win.

“It was an important game to consolidate ourselves against a team that looked unbeatable,” Sampaoli said. “We did well against one of the best teams in the world. This victory makes me proud.”

Sevilla, which has won six straight at home, reached 20 points from nine rounds, one point behind Real Madrid, which is top after a 2-1 home win against Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona, which defeated Valencia 3-2 Saturday thanks to an injury-time penalty kick converted by Lionel Messi, is third with 19 points.

“It’s going to be tight like this the entire season,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.

There had been some early doubts about Sampaoli as Sevilla lost in the Spanish Super Cup to Barcelona and the UEFA Super Cup to Real Madrid. But after the up-and-down start, the Argentine coach has finally been able to put Sevilla on track. As well as contending in Spain, the Andalusian club is also in a good position to advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Atletico, which had the lead coming into the weekend, dropped to fifth place, three points behind Madrid.

Diego Simeone’s team played with 10 men from the 77th on Sunday because of a second yellow card shown to midfielder Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion.

Sampaoli made key adjustments at halftime, allowing his team to take control of the game and earn the hard-fought victory under pouring rain in Seville.

N’Zonzi scored the winner on a fast breakaway, speeding past two defenders after receiving a great throughball from striker Luciano Vietto. The Frenchman entered the area and calmly sent a low shot into the far corner as Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak charged from the net.

Real Madrid needed an 83rd-minute winner by substitute Alvaro Morata to earn a hard-fought win against Athletic Bilbao.

Karim Benzema put Madrid ahead just seven minutes into the game at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Sabin Merino equalized in the 27th and held on for most of the match.

Morata, celebrating his 24th birthday, scored from close range less than 10 minutes after replacing Benzema. Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz made the initial save but Morata persisted and found the open net off the rebound.

“I feel like a 10-year-old,” Morata said. “We won and we are in the lead, it couldn’t have been better.”

It was Madrid’s second straight win after three consecutive draws in the league.

Madrid and Villarreal are the only unbeaten clubs in the league after nine rounds.

Athletic is sixth on 15 points, six behind Madrid.

French striker Cedric Bakambu scored the winner in second-half injury time for Villarreal, but it was Las Palmas’ Kevin-Prince Boateng who attracted all the attention with a remarkable goal before halftime.

Boateng’s side volley from inside the area came after a mid-air, back-heel pass by Pedro Tana, who flicked the ball across the area for Boateng to shoot firmly into the corner.

Still unbeaten in the league this season, Villarreal has won three of its last four games and is in fourth place with 19 points.

Celta Vigo rebounded from two consecutive losses with a comfortable home win over Deportivo La Coruna behind a pair of goals by striker Iago Aspas.

After a 4-3 loss to Barcelona and a 5-0 defeat against Villarreal, Celta cruised to victory against struggling Deportivo to move to eighth place with 13 points.

The teams were tied 1-1 when Aspas converted a 60th-minute penalty kick. Chilean midfielder Fabian Orellana added to the lead in the 78th and Aspas closed the scoring in the 83rd at the Balaidos Stadium.

Deportivo, which has lost four of its last five games, dropped to 17th in the 20-team standings.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni

MLS Decision Day: New York goes 1-2; RBNY kings of the East again

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Final scores

Philadelphia Union 0-2 New York Red Bulls
New York City FC 4-1 Columbus Crew SC
Toronto FC 3-2 Chicago Fire
Orlando City SC 4-2 D.C. United
New England Revolution 3-0 Montreal Impact

Final standings

1. New York Red Bulls
2. New York City FC
3. Toronto FC
4. D.C. United
5. Montreal Impact
6. Philadelphia Union

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — All the Decision Day scenarios ]

The moments that mattered

4:33 p.m. ET — Fagundez curls one in, keeps the Revs’ heart beating — It’s going to take a lot more of these from the Revs, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

4:33 p.m. ET — DCU give one up to Molino, still 4th — Ben Olsen’s reserve side got off to a rocky start.

4:41 p.m. ET — Kaka puts ORL 2-0 up against DCU’s reserves — Fortunately for DCU, MTL don’t seem to want to finish 4th either.

4:38 p.m. ET — De Leeuw puts CHI 1-0 up on TOR — Losing to the worst team in the league on the final day of the season with a chance to secure a bye in the knockout round… it would be so TFC.

4:48 p.m. ET — BWP puts RBNY up, seals the Golden Boot — Anything but a loss, and RBNY finish top of the East. Bradley Wright-Phillips is doing what he does.

5:03 p.m. ET — Saborio pulls one back for DCU, still in 4th — ORL gifted DCU a way back into the game.

5:05 p.m. ET — Giovinco brings TFC level, back into the race for 2nd — A little late to the party, but TFC have awoken.

5:05 p.m. ET — Villa puts NYCFC 1-0 up, still stuck in 2nd — NYCFC keeping the pressure on RBNY, and keeping TFC at arm’s length.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

5:28 p.m. ET — Higuita restores ORL’s two-goal lead — Top shelf, far post. DCU not afraid of playing on the road in the knockout round, apparently.

5:34 p.m. ET — Giovinco sets up Morrow for 2-1, a point off 2nd — All TFC need now is a CLB equalizer, and they’d take the second knockout-round bye.

5:36 p.m. ET — Muyl wraps up the top spot for RBNY — That’ll just about do it for RBNY, the undisputed kings of the East.

5:39 p.m. ET — Kamara heads CLB to 1-1; NYCFC drop to 3rd — The best five minutes of TFC’s season? Might just be.

5:43 p.m. ET — Osorio makes it 3-1 for TFC — Nine minutes change the outlook of TFC’s entire season.

5:55 p.m. ET — Harrison puts NYCFC back in front, back in 2nd — TFC can score all the goals they want, but NYCFC only need to win to finish 2nd.

5:57 p.m. ET — Shelton makes it 3-1 NYCFC; safe in 2nd — The worst three minutes of TFC’s season? Might just be.

MLS Decision Day: FCD Shield winners; POR collapse, miss playoffs

FRISCO, TX - MARCH 06:  Maximiliano Urruti #37 of FC Dallas celebrates his goal with Mauro Diaz #10 against the Philadelphia Union in the second half during the MLS opening game at Toyota Stadium on March 6, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Final scores

LA Galaxy 0-0 FC Dallas
Colorado Rapids 1-1 Houston Dynamo
Seattle Sounders 2-1 Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps 4-1 Portland Timbers

Final standings

1. FC Dallas
2. Colorado Rapids
3. LA Galaxy
4. Seattle Sounders
5. Sporting Kansas City
6. Real Salt Lake

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — All the Decision Day scenarios ]

The moments that mattered

4:24 p.m. ET — Fernandez puts SEA up 1-0, into 4th — Fewer than three minutes on the clock, and the Sounders scored this beauty. Sensual soccer.

4:25 p.m. ET — Mulholland pulls RSL back to 1-1, back into 4th — 90 seconds later, RSL’s equalizer was’t nearly as pretty.

4:34 p.m. ET — Barnes puts VAN 1-0 up on POR — POR defenders standing around, and Giles Barnes puts them in a bad, bad place.

4:41 p.m. ET — COL give one up to HOU; Shield hopes in trouble — COL’s only hope for the Supporters’ Shield was a win and an FCD loss. Not looking good early.

4:47 p.m. ET — Feilhaber scores from the spot, SKC go 4th — After a nervy opening 25 minutes, SKC get on the board.

4:52 p.m. ET — Roldan puts SEA back into the lead, back in 4th — SKC’s time in 4th was short-lived, thanks to a header by the smallest man on the field in Seattle.

4:53 p.m. ET — Barnes makes it 2-0; POR in big trouble — POR’s’ season looks to have gone up in flames.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

5:34 p.m. ET — 3-0 and 4-0 in Vancouver; so long, POR — Just an unbelievable collapse on the final day from POR.

5:45 p.m. ET — Gashi pulls COL level, but they need another — Nothing doing in LA; COL lurking in the event up a slip-up by FCD.

6:05 p.m. ET — Zusi fires past Bingham, seals 5th for SKC — Breathing room for SKC.

LIVE — AT THE HALF: Shield for FCD; SEA, SKC, RSL in; POR out

David Villa, New York City FC (Photo credit: New York City FC / Facebook)
Photo credit: New York City FC / Facebook
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We’re through 45 minutes of Decision Day, and the goals have been flying in all over MLS already.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS scoreboard for Decision Day updates ]

The Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake traded goals inside the first five minutes in the Emerald City, and the Sounders reclaimed the lead just after the half-hour mark. They’re now fourth place in the Western Conference, clinging onto the home game in the knockout round that comes with it. Sporting Kansas City are 1-0 up on the San Jose Earthquakes, which has them fifth at this very moment. The defending champion Portland Timbers are 2-0 down in Vancouver, and are 45 minutes from missing out on the playoffs altogether.

FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy are scoreless in Southern California, and the Colorado Rapids are 1-0 down to the Houston Dynamo, which is more than enough for FCD to clinch the Supporters’ Shield.

In the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls are 1-0 up on the Philadelphia Union, and 45 minutes from clinching home-field advantage through the conference finals. Toronto FC are tie 1-1 with the last-place Chicago Fire, and will finish third if that result holds.

Halftime scores

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Union 0-1 New York Red Bulls
New York City FC 1-0 Columbus Crew SC
Toronto FC 1-1 Chicago Fire
Orlando City SC 2-1 D.C. United
New England Revolution 1-0 Montreal Impact

Western Conference

LA Galaxy 0-0 FC Dallas
Colorado Rapids 0-1 Houston Dynamo
Seattle Sounders 2-1 Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 Portland Timbers

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — All the Decision Day scenarios ]

For a full list of scenarios in the East, the West — to clinch berths and seeding implications — as well as the Shield race, hit this link and this link. Hit the link toward the top of this post, or right here, to keep up with all the action across the league over the final 45 minutes of the season. And, of course, check back on PST for full coverage of the afternoon and the setting of the stage for the playoffs, which begin Wednesday night with the knockout round.