The MLS Cup is down to four teams, and each of the conference finalists will need excellent individual performances from their top players in order to come out on top.
The Los Angeles Galaxy will take on the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference championship while the Houston Dynamo will face D.C. United in the Eastern Conference championship.
As reigning champions, the Galaxy will be mentally ready for the pressure that comes at this late stage of the tournament. Houston and D.C. also have multiple titles as franchises, leaving Seattle as the only remaining team to never lift the trophy.
Here are the players each team will count on as they make a final surge towards glory.
Los Angeles Galaxy: Landon Donovan
There are a few big names on the Galaxy’s roster, but Donovan does more on the field for his team than his fellow stars.
He is still a potent goal scorer and has hit the back of the net 10 times this season, placing him second on the team behind Robbie Keane. But Donovan is even more dangerous as a distributor, and his 15 assists is the highest total in the MLS.
Without Donovan effectively orchestrating the attack, Los Angeles stands little chance at cracking Seattle’s stout defense. The Sounders conceded the fewest goals in the Western Conference during the regular season.
A fine performance from Donovan will put the Galaxy on the right track toward a second consecutive title.
Seattle Sounders: Eddie Johnson
While Seattle’s defense has played extremely well this season, it will need Eddie Johnson to be relentless in order to spark the attack.
The striker leads the team with 14 goals this season and has the ability to torment Los Angeles’ back line, which has been mostly average this season.
With top-class play from its star striker, Seattle will keep the dangerous Galaxy forwards in a retreated position and limit their impact on the match. This will also keep the defense fresh throughout the 90 minutes.
Johnson must be active and focused throughout both legs of this round, or the Sounders will find it difficult to knock out the defending champs.
Houston Dynamo: Brad Davis
Davis is another player who drives his team’s attack as both a dangerous goal scorer and a crafty distributor.
His 11 assists are the highest of any Houston player, and he has also scored eight times this season, which is the second-best total on the team.
Houston will desperately need Davis to break down D.C. United’s defense and create space for both himself and his teammates. If he cannot do this, his team stands little chance at keeping pace with their opponent’s potent attack.
But if he can be effective, the Dynamo will be in the final for the second year in a row.
D.C. United: Chris Pontius
With veteran midfielder Dwayne De Rosario out for the season, the D.C. United’s attack is relying on Pontius to be extremely productive throughout the postseason.
The 25-year-old leads the team with 12 goals this season, but was unable to get on the score sheet during two hard-fought battles with the New York Red Bulls.
However, these were both low-scoring matches and Pontius will have more chances in front of goal against Houston. It will not be easy to break down the disciplined Houston defense, but Pontius must lead the effort for his team.
If he can find space in dangerous positions, D.C. United will win this matchup.