Fearless predictions: how Sunday's MLS Cup final will go

David Beckham's part of Saturday's media session, about 30 hours before Sunday's MLS Cup final.

CARSON, Calif. -- Funny thing about the prediction and prognostication game when it comes to big games:

It's a bit like the weather; stick around long enough, and the prevailing winds will change.

 

Earlier this week, conventional wisdom said Sunday's biggie inside the Home Depot Center would be an old-fashioned romp-and-stomp.

 

David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez et al would serve up some Orange stew and turn the 16th MLS Cup final into a howler. At which point, Beckham would put on his little beanie (Why does he need that thing for so many interviews?), speak in that quintessentially Beckham voice and bid a fair adieu to MLS after five fab years, and all would be well Planet LA.

 

About the result: I personally never felt that way. I've said all along that Houston would make this a closer game than people think. It's a one-goal contest either way, quite possibly in extra time.

 

But the two week break between matches gives folks like me a chance to change their minds. (I have not changed my mind. As I like to say, I'll try not to bust my arm patting myself on the back.)  But others have hitched their steam engines to the Dynamo express. Talking to VMTs (various media types) around the Galaxy and Dynamo trainings Friday and yesterday, that pendulum has officially swung.

 

Theory: the extra week between the league semis and Sunday's (potentially wet) final gave everyone time to change their darn minds. 

 

For a more comprehensive preview, go to my SI.com preview here

 

For more on how I see the game, click on ...

 

  • Both teams will be cautious and sit back. That's how L.A. plays, getting numbers forward but in a calculated, smart way. It's never "all hands on deck" for the Galaxy in the attack; they prefer to score on the counter and off set pieces. You can read more about that here, in the Talking Tactics piece I wrote earlier this week for MLSSoccer.
  • Along those lines, I'll be interested to see who gets hold of the ball and keeps possession in this one. Neither team is Barcelona in this way. They want to keep the ball, but not for long, preferring balls going forward sooner rather than later. It's not old school British long ball, necessarily,  but they don't mess about too much in possession, either. 
  • Houston's ability to be dangerous on set piece strikes took a major hit, of course, with Brad Davis' injury. No one else in an orange shirt hits those with such deadeye accuracy.  But L.A.'s ability to be dangerous on free kicks and corner kicks also took a hit; Chad Barrett is a big ol' pest on those things, and he's out. Yes, Omar Gonzalez is a big target, and he's good in the opposition 18. But after that, the Galaxy is a bit small. Smaller fellows  like Donovan, Juninho, Mike Magee, etc., can certainly score with their head, but Barrett's injury does take a little sting out of the Galaxy set piece tail.
  • I watched Adam Moffat take extra free kick practice Friday after the Dynamo training. One of three was a bit of a stinker. Take that for what you will.
  • Meanwhile, Barrett's injury means one fewer big body to defend set pieces against the Dynamo tall trees. Those include Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron and Brian Ching. (Ching isn't the tallest tree, but he plays like one.)
  • If Ching gets himself matched up in the run of play with Galaxy center back A.J. DeLaGarza, that's real trouble for Los Angeles. I talked to DeLaGarza about this on Friday. He says the key is getting a body on Ching.  Well, yeah, but his body is smaller and less muscled than Ching's. And Ching is a wise old egg.  He knows all the little tricks about creating separation. Ching is also smart about pulling those defender apart; he'll force Gonzalez to make choices about when to follow Ching and when to hold that line.  If he makes the wrong call, Calen Carr's speed will come into play as he seeks spaces behind the Galaxy back line. 
  • Ching, by the way, is an underrated passer. Watch for this Sunday. 
  • The weather will play into Houston's hands. At this point it looks like rain is headed toward the Home Depot Center. Potentially lots of it.  That mitigates some of the Galaxy's skillful weaponry, Donovan's speed on the counter and Beckham's ability to bomb away with those killer passes over distance. 
  • On intangibles, Houston has the edge. Center backs Cameron and Boswell have a big wonderful connection at the moment. In general, the Dynamo is loose and "feeling it." That means a lot in big games. 
  • That said, no team competes harder that Houston. Ricardo Salazar is the best referee in MLS, but this is still MLS. As always in this league,  a lot of the rough and tumble will be tolerated, and that's "advantage Dynamo." Go back and look at how many times Colorado's Conor Casey should have been yellow carded in last year's MLS Cup final.
  • I still say the Galaxy advantage in difference makers (Beckham, Donovan, Keane, while one of the Dynamo's top stars is missing in Davis) will be too much to overcome. And don't discount the significance of Sunday's home field advantage. I believe the Dynamo has a goal in them; but the Galaxy may have two. I'm calling a 2-1 win for L.A.
  • BUT … it will be close. And DO NOT go rushing with fists full of cash to your local "guy" on the corner to wager on that result. Because I will not be a big surprised if Dominic Kinnear and the Dynamo do just enough to rain on the Galaxy parade.
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