The one bonus (or flaw, depending on one’s perspective) of American professional soccer in relation to the rest of world football is that the end of the season is guaranteed to finish with a bang.
While the overwhelming majority of professional soccer leagues in the world play in a single-table format where the regular season determines the champion, Major League Soccer is one of the few leagues that uses an end-of-the-year playoff to determine its champion.
In a single-table system, there are many instances of the champion being decided weeks before the season is even over (last year’s English Premier League finish is obviously a glaring exception).
In the playoff system MLS uses, much like the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, the winner comes down to one highly anticipated game.
So now, after preseason friendlies, 34 regular season games, CONCACAF Champions League games and the U.S. Open Cup, MLS is finally ready to determine its champion.
On December 1st, the LA Galaxy will take on the Houston Dynamo to determine the winner of the 2012 MLS Cup.
Here are four reasons the LA Galaxy deserve to come out on top.
Bruce Arena’s Management of His Designated Players
It would be easy to assume that just because the Galaxy have one of the best collections of talent Bruce Arena’s job has been easy.
Anyone who thinks that should have a conversation with former New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe.
While the Red Bulls had three topnotch DPs, just like the Galaxy, the NYRB have been consistent underachievers.
Thierry Henry’s body language towards his teammates constantly reveals a combination of frustration, bewilderment and contempt. And Rafa Marquez’s ability to single-handedly wreck the Red Bulls’ playoff runs the last two years has been tragically laughable.
And, all around MLS, other teams have seen similarly disappointing results from their DPs. DC United’s Hamdi Salihi’s poor finishing was largely responsible for DC’s failure to knock off the Houston Dynamo. The Seattle Sounders’ Fredy Montero can’t buy a playoff goal. The Philadelphia Union’s Freddy Adu could not even consistently crack the Union’s starting XI.
The Galaxy, on the other hand, always seem to get an honest effort from their DPs Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
While there have certainly been exceptions to this (Beckham’s early MLS years are a good example), Arena has pulled a maximum effort from his DPs the last two seasons and has seen remarkable results.
He must be given a large amount of the credit for LA’s performance over the past two seasons.
A Storybook Ending for David Beckham—Part 2
Last season, when David Beckham was in the final year of his contract and the Galaxy won the 2011 MLS Cup, it was widely expected that Beckham would leave the team.
This would have been an appropriate ending for Beckham’s career in America, as he finished his final seasons with both Manchester United and Real Madrid with championships as well.
However, in the offseason, Beckham surprisingly signed a new two-year deal with the Galaxy to continue his MLS career.
Yet last week, despite having one year left on his deal, Beckham announced that he would be leaving the team after the final.
A championship for Beckham would be a fitting end for the man who has done so much to help the growth of professional soccer in America.
The Galaxy Are Simply More Fun to Watch
This doesn’t necessarily mean that LA is more “deserving” of a win in the MLS Cup final (and the Dynamo’s success with their bruising, hard-working style deserves loads of credit), but there is little doubt that the Galaxy are a more fun team to watch.
With Beckham spraying balls across the field from a deep-lying midfield position, Sean Franklin bombing up the right flank, Mike Magee’s timely ability to score big goals in the playoffs and Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane connecting in the attack, LA simply plays a more “beautiful” game.
The Galaxy Beat the Best Team in MLS to Get This Far
Both teams deserve an immense amount of credit for reaching the MLS finals.
Houston had to play a first-round one-off against the Chicago Fire in Chicago. Then, they had to beat Sporting KC, the Eastern Conference’s best team and the league’s best defense in the conference semifinal. Finally, Houston had to beat DC United, a team that was extremely hot at the end of the season.
Plus, the Dynamo had to do it fighting through a number of injuries to key players.
But the Galaxy had a difficult playoff run as well. They also had a first-round play-in game, although theirs was against the admittedly weaker Vancouver Whitecaps. Then, the Galaxy had to take on the San Jose Earthquakes, who were the best team in Major League Soccer this year and had the most prolific offense with an amazing 72 goals scored. Finally, the Galaxy had to beat the Seattle Sounders, including a tricky second leg in front of an enormous and boisterous Seattle crowd on turf in the rain.
It should be a close game, but the edge goes to the Galaxy.
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