AEG conspiracy theorists of the world unite, for the 2012 MLS Cup will once again feature two of the more prominent franchises in league history.
For the LA Galaxy, this is their eighth appearance in the MLS Cup. Considered by many to be the preeminent franchise in MLS, LA is in search of its fourth title—much to the chagrin of DC United president Kevin Payne. (Update: Kevin Payne has decided to step down as president, per the Washington Post).
Standing in the way are the disregarded Houston Dynamo—a playoff-savvy bunch that have taken on the identity of cerebral head coach Dom Kinnear.
Unlike the vast majority of pundits and expert analysts, I do not believe Saturday's match is a foregone conclusion.
That sentiment is not out of sheer enjoyment from being a contrarian, or due to a belief in a standard team-of-destiny cliché. No, it is for more substantial and tactical reasons than that.
Here are the five reasons why the Houston Dynamo deserve to win the 2012 MLS Cup.
For the second time in MLS history, the MLS Cup will feature the same matchup in two consecutive seasons (the first being the Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution from 2006-2007).
Many feared a potential rematch of last year’s final (myself included). But while the 2012 MLS Cup will feature the same resilient team that managed to scrape and crawl its way to the final, it is far from a rematch.
This may be the Dynamo, but this is the 2012 Houston Dynamo.
Even that may not be so significant: Bobby Boswell’s recent performance has been reminiscent of the 2006 season where he was named the Defender of the Year, somewhat negating the loss of Cameron.
Unfortunately for Houston, revisionist history has altered the perception of the 2012 MLS Cup Final. Many have overlooked the significant contributions that players like Brad Davis, Will Bruin, Ricardo Clark and the vastly underrated Boniek Garcia will provide Houston on Saturday.
Make no mistake, Houston's 2012 MLS Cup roster is what ultimately separates this Dynamo team from last year’s.
The addition of some of these players has allowed Coach Kinnear to tinker with formations and lineups throughout the season.
His ability to make the most of the versatility his players provide is what makes the 2012 Dynamo a more formidable opponent for the Galaxy.
LA lifted its third MLS Cup last year by the slimmest of margins. It may have been a dominant 1-0 victory, but it was still only a one-goal difference.
With three playoff matches won on the road thus far, the 2012 Dynamo have the personnel to make it a fourth win and the third MLS Cup in franchise history.
The Dynamo’s decision to sign Boniek Garcia in early June is easily the most overlooked and important signing of the 2012 MLS season.
After his transfer from Honduran football club CD Olimpia, Garcia immediately bolstered Houston’s midfield.
An unknown entity to the casual MLS fan, Garcia possesses the dynamic versatility that makes him one of the more gifted midfielders in the league. It is that same versatility that has afforded Coach Kinnear the opportunity to habitually switch between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3.
Since his arrival, Garcia’s speed on the flanks has been problematic for the opposition. But it is his offensive prowess that makes the Dynamo attack deadlier than its 2011 version.
With a trip to the MLS Cup there for the taking, Garcia took over the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals. His relentless performance culminated in the vigorous strike inside the box that slammed the door on DC United’s title hopes.
All signs point to Garcia remaining in top form for the final, which means trouble for the Galaxy’s back four.
The availability of A.J. DeLaGarza is still not yet known, so the Galaxy may have to rely on the rookie Tommy Meyer to contain the Honduran international. Unfortunately for LA, Meyer does not possess the speed to mark the dynamic midfielder.
It is not yet known what formation Coach Kinnear will utilize on Saturday, but for Garcia, it will not matter.
Garcia is a hybrid. He is as multifaceted and resolute as they come, and is one of the main reasons the Houston Dynamo deserve to win MLS Cup.
Last year, Brad Davis started in 37 of Houston’s 38 matches. Unfortunately for Davis, the only one he missed was the MLS Cup.
After tearing a quadriceps in the Eastern Conference Final last year, Davis was forced to miss Houston’s 1-0 loss at the Home Depot Center.
His creative style of play was glaringly absent in the 2011 MLS Cup Final. Although the Dynamo out-possessed the Galaxy 54-46 percent, they only managed one shot on target.
That will not be an issue for Houston this year. Davis appears to be healthy and ready to make an impact in the final match of the season.
His team-leading three playoff assists have been instrumental to Houston’s latest playoff run—with none better than the crafty assist that led to Garcia’s back-breaking goal against DC in the conference final.
Davis’ ability to create chances in the run of play is deadly, but his lethal accuracy on set pieces gives the Dynamo an added dimension from last year.
Whether it is a corner kick or a free kick, there will be a dangerous set-piece opportunity at some point for Houston. Unlike last year, Davis will be the one taking it.
With Davis' ability in the run of play and in set pieces, Dynamo fans should feel confident in the 31-year-old veteran’s ability to create the chances the team lacked in the 2011 final.
The ability to capitalize, however, ultimately falls at the feet of Will Bruin.
Speaking of Will Bruin, his performance in the 2012 MLS playoffs has been nothing short of spectacular.
After playing a total of only 37 minutes in last year’s postseason, Bruin has made the most of his 401 minutes of playoff action.
At only 23 years old, he shows extraordinary promise as an American striker.
While most young players crumble under the pressure of the MLS playoffs, Bruin has only flourished. His equanimity and composure this year is equivalent to that of a seasoned veteran.
His team-leading four playoff goals are a new Dynamo franchise record, besting the mark set by Brian Ching in 2006.
Bruin is yet to make an appearance for the U.S. men’s national team, but his performance in the 2012 postseason is indicative of Coach Kinnear’s confidence in the American youngster.
He has become the focal point of Houston’s offensive attack, and has been an adequate replacement for his predecessor Ching.
Much like the rest of his teammates, nothing is ever given or assumed by Bruin; it is earned. His thirst for goal is on par with the world-renowned, cold-blooded strikers of the world, but comes without the self-absorbed temperament.
Bruin is the quintessential No. 9 in the world of soccer, and a player you should be rooting for on Saturday.
After a week of condescending media coverage—which mainly focused on the MLS and how it is doomed to fail after Beckham’s departure—not a single word has been uttered about the Dynamo.
Lost in all the recent media hoopla is the fact that Houston is a very skilled, physical and dangerous team—one that has won three playoff matches on the road this year.
The combination of Beckham’s departure and LA’s ostentatious roster has left very little belief in the Dynamo’s ability to pull off a monumental upset.
LA already faced tremendous pressure to repeat as champions. With the MLS Cup set to be Beckham’s final match with the Galaxy, all eyes are on Beckham, and the MLS Cup will surely attract a record audience. That attention, however, has placed a tremendous weight upon the shoulders of Beckham and his teammates.
Everyone will be tuning in expecting Beckham to walk away from MLS a glorified champion.
That's why Houston will have the opportunity to do the one thing the Galaxy cannot: play a loose, stress-free style of soccer in the most important match of the year.
With the coronation of the LA Galaxy already set in motion, look for the Dynamo to go all-in with house money.
I bet against Coach Kinnear once and said I would never do it again. The Houston Dynamo deserve to win the 2012 MLS Cup. Against all odds, expect them to do so.
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