LA Galaxy vs. New England: Breaking Down Every Positional Battle in MLS Cup
After nine months of play in Major League Soccer, a champion will be crowned at the StubHub Center Sunday, when the LA Galaxy host the New England Revolution in the 2014 MLS Cup final.
Both teams finished second in their respective conferences during the regular season. But throughout the postseason, they have both proved they are the best representatives for the Eastern and Western Conferences.
This will be the third time the two franchises have met in the MLS Cup final. LA won both the 2002 and 2005 finals by a 1-0 score in extra time.
To get you prepared for this championship clash, we have put together a comprehensive position-by-position breakdown to determine who has the better side heading into the final.
Matchup: Jaime Penedo (LA) vs. Bobby Shuttleworth (New England)
Throughout the MLS Cup playoffs, Jaime Penedo has been the best goalkeeper in the league.
Penedo stood out in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals against Real Salt Lake, making six saves in a 0-0 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Over his last three matches, the Panamanian shot-stopper has made a total of five saves, which brings his playoff total to 11.
On the other hand, Bobby Shuttleworth has been extremely active between the pipes for the Revolution, with 18 playoff saves. However, he has conceded six goals compared to Penedo's two.
Although Shuttleworth has been busier in net, Penedo has performed better in the big games.
Advantage: LA Galaxy
Matchup: A.J. DeLaGarza or Dan Gargan (LA) vs. Andrew Farrell (New England)
The big story at the right-back position heading into the MLS Cup final is the health of A.J. DeLaGarza.
DeLaGarza expects to be ready for Sunday's match, per MLSSoccer.com. If he can't play, he will be replaced by Dan Gargan.
The 27-year-old league veteran started most of the season at center-back. But since his shift to the right in the second leg against Real Salt Lake, the Galaxy have become a well-oiled machine.
Former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Farrell does not carry have the attacking influence of DeLaGarza, but he does bring more physicality to the pitch.
Farrell has come into his own at the position this season, but there is no chance he will get forward as much as DeLaGarza because of his showdown with Landon Donovan on the left flank.
Advantage: LA Galaxy
Matchup: Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo (LA) vs. Jose Goncalves and A.J. Soares (New England)
At first glance, it appears that the Galaxy have a massive advantage at center-back due to the presence of Omar Gonzalez.
However, his partner in the middle of the back four isn't as consistent as the United States international. Although he hasn't yet shown it in the postseason, Leonardo is prone to mistakes.
Leonardo could face some difficulty against the New England attack, which uses a plethora of crafty runs to find open space.
New England's pairing of Jose Goncalves and A.J. Soares does not get as much credit as it deserves. In both legs of the Eastern Conference Final, the duo stepped in on countless occasions to disrupt the dangerous Thierry Henry-led Red Bulls attack.
Goncalves does have his flaws as well, as we saw on New York's first goal in the second leg when Tim Cahill outmuscled him to poke in a shot from close range.
Both pairings are susceptible to mistakes, but New England holds the slight advantage due to the fearless Soares' willingness to put himself on the line to block shots.
Advantage: New England
Matchup: Robbie Rogers (LA) vs. Kevin Alston or Chris Tierney (New England)
If you asked anyone around the league who had the advantage at left-back before the playoffs, the clear answer would be the Galaxy.
Robbie Rogers has made a flawless transition from the midfield to left-back to hand the Galaxy a perfect security blanket behind Donovan on the left flank.
Not only has he been strong on defense, Rogers has shown no fear moving forward throughout the postseason. Just ask DeAndre Yedlin how difficult it was marking Rogers in the Western Conference Final.
New England manager Jay Heaps made a tactical shift at the position for the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final. Heaps advanced usual left-back Chris Tierney up to the wing and placed Kevin Alston in the back four.
Tierney possesses a deadly left foot, which produced the two New England goals in the second leg against the Red Bulls.
With that success in mind, do not be surprised if Tierney starts on the wing, since Alston did a decent job defending in his place.
Although it would be easy to hand Rogers the advantage here, it is too close of a decision to determine who will make the bigger impact Sunday afternoon.
Matchup: Stefan Ishizaki (LA) vs. Teal Bunbury (New England)
Stefan Ishizaki is the forgotten member of the Galaxy attack, but he still packs a punch on the right wing.
The four shots taken by the Swede during the postseason are not representative of the impact he has had combining with DeLaGarza on the right.
Ishizaki brings width to the Galaxy midfield, which is something Baggio Husidic failed to give LA during the regular season. By being able to spread out the field, Ishizaki hands opposing defenses a tough challenge, especially when the Galaxy switch play from left to right.
Teal Bunbury's play has been one of the best stories in the postseason, as he has scored two goals and contributed two assists in four games.
The highlight of his postseason so far was his spectacular strike in the 17th minute of the first leg against the Red Bulls. Throughout the playoffs, Bunbury has also linked up well with Jermaine Jones when the designated player surges forward in attack.
Although Ishizaki has had a meaningful impact on the Galaxy attack, Bunbury has done more to influence results for the Revolution
Advantage: New England
Matchup: Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas (LA) vs. Jermaine Jones, Scott Caldwell and Lee Nguyen (New England)
As ESPN's Marc Connolly suggested on Twitter, it is finally time to stop referring to Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas as underrated.
The Galaxy midfield duo has proven time and time again it is one of, if not the best midfield pairings in the league because of its combined ability to control the pace of a match.
On top of its usual accurate passing performances in the middle of the park, the Brazilian pair has been able to influence the Galaxy attack in the postseason. Sarvas scored the lone goal in the first leg of the Western Conference Final, while Juninho scored the series-clinching goal in the second leg.
While the Galaxy utilizes a diamond midfield, New England uses a 4-2-3-1 system, with Scott Caldwell and Jermaine Jones in defensive midfield and Lee Nguyen in an attacking role.
Caldwell is the player who sits back to defend, while Jones and Nguyen have formed a deadly duo moving forward.
Jones has arguably been the best player this postseason, with one goal, two assists and a tireless motor driving forward. Nguyen did not have the best Eastern Conference Final, but he played a major role in the Eastern Conference Semifinal win over Columbus.
Juninho and Sarvas do make a big difference in midfield for the Galaxy, but without Jones and Nguyen, the Revolution would not be in the final.
Advantage: New England
Matchup: Landon Donovan (LA) vs. Chris Tierney or Kelyn Rowe (New England)
If you've been living under a rock for the last six months, we're here to tell you that this is Landon Donovan's final game.
Donovan, who became the league's all-time leader in goals and assists during the regular season, has the chance to break one last MLS record at StubHub Center Sunday.
The United States legend needs one assist to surpass Mauricio Cienfuegos on the postseason assist chart. Expect Donovan to play some type of role in the Galaxy goals Sunday; he has a knack for showing up in the games that matter most.
Based on the terrific amount of success Tierney had against New York Saturday, it would not be a surprise to see him back on the left wing for Sunday's final.
No matter where he lines up on the pitch, Tierney will be a valuable asset on set pieces and crosses throughout the match. If he does move back to defense for the final, 23-year-old Kelyn Rowe will slide back into his normal starting position on the wing.
Rowe can be dangerous with his pace on the left wing, but his left foot is not as good as Tierney's.
Although the Revolution have two intriguing options on the wing, it's hard not to hand the advantage to Donovan in a big game.
Advantage: LA Galaxy
Matchup: Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes (LA) vs. Charlie Davies (New England)
The forward position presents us with possibly the most intriguing positional matchup for Sunday's final.
Newly minted Most Valuable Player Robbie Keane will lead the line for the Galaxy alongside Gyasi Zardes. The two combined to score 35 goals in the regular season, but only Keane has struck the back of the net in the postseason.
Keane's biggest contribution to the Galaxy's playoff cause came in the second leg against Real Salt Lake, when he played a role in four goals. Zardes, however, has only put two shots on target in four games.
Charlie Davies has been on fire up top for the Revolution in the playoffs, scoring a brace in each postseason series.
Davies sometimes gets lost in the conversation due to the performances of Jones, Nguyen and others, but his movement in the box is key to the team's success.
If you judge this matchup on form alone, Davies would have the advantage. But just like Donovan, it is hard to bet against Keane in a big game. The one factor holding the Galaxy back at the position is Zardes, who hasn't scored since September 28.
Follow Joe on Twitter @JTansey90
All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com