LOS ANGELES -- Bruce Arena calls Home Depot Center a “neutral” ground, at least for Sunday's MLS Cup final, but nobody's buying that -- even if the Galaxy, as their coach says, will be seated on the north "visitors" bench rather than their usual digs on the other side of the midfield stripe.
The Galaxy haven't lost at home this year. They haven't lost any match at HDC, going 17-0-6, including the road game against Chivas USA, three CONCACAF Champions League victories, and the friendly with Manchester City.
Think that's intimidating? Not for the Dynamo.
Houston went 15 road games without a victory this season, finally winning at FC Dallas on Sept. 24. They've been perfect away since, winning at Portland in mid-October then claiming playoff victories at Philadelphia and, in the Eastern Conference title game, at Sporting Kansas City.
“Before the playoffs started, we were pretty [poor] on the road,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear noted during the MLS Cup news conference Thursday afternoon at the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown L.A. “It took us 16 games to get our first road win this year. It wasn't due to lack of playing well -- sometimes we didn't, and sometimes we did, but results didn't go our way.”
The victory at Dallas “gave us a lot of confidence” and the victory in Portland “was crucial for us,” Kinnear said.
And it all paid off in the postseason.
“Getting the early goal [by Andre Hainault in the sixth minute of] the playoff gave us a good amount of energy,” Kinnear said. “The most important thing for me was Philadelphia equalized [through Sebastien Le Toux a minute] later, and the boys didn't hang their heads down and got a goal [from Calen Carr] just before halftime.
“And the next [road] test was probably the most difficult one up until Sunday, against Kansas City. ... I don't think a lot of people picked us to win that game, but I think over the 90 minutes we were the better team that day, so stepping on the field here, we understand it's a cup final, it's kind of a home game for [the Galaxy], but you can't walk on the field afraid, and I think the guys are full of confidence stepping on, respecting our opponent but not being afraid or intimidated, and that's why we're here.”
WHO'S FAVORED: Ask anybody who's going to win the MLS Cup final, they'll tell you it's the Galaxy, whether they know anything about it or not.
Kinnear is cool with that.
“I think whoever rates us as the underdog, that's not in our control,” he said. “I think if you look at it on paper, the odds probably lean toward L.A., but it's a cup final. It's just 90 minutes of football, of soccer, so anything can happen. ...
“I think if it goes down to predictions, from what the media says, I think more people are picking L.A. than Houston. We can't control that. All we can control is what we do. If you take out the [magnitude of] the event and the fans, it's a 90-minute soccer game, possibly 120 minutes. And I think L.A. respects us enough to say there's no favorite, it's just two teams playing for a trophy.”
Arena addressed the subject last week.
“In soccer, there's no such thing [as a favorite],” he said. “This is not like basketball or baseball or football, I don't think. This is probably the sport, if you talk to bookies, that's the hardest one to pick, because it's low-scoring.
“Our expectation is we have to step on the field and play hard and play well in order to win. I think we understand how you're supposed to prepare to win a game, so I don't think it anyone says we're the favorites that it matters one way or another.”
MUCH ADO ABOUT DAVIS: The two big storylines for this MLS Cup are what's going to happen with David Beckham -- will he stay or will he go? -- and how can Houston cope without Brad Davis, who will miss the match with a torn quadriceps muscle.
“You can't replace Brad,” Dynamo captain Brian Ching said. “Just for the season he's having, what he means to this team -- he's played in every single game we've had this year, he's the MVP of our team, potentially the MVP of the league ... he's a leader on our team. You can't really replace him.”
Oh, but they will.
“Well, we are going to replace him. We can't play with 10,” Kinnear said, drawing laughter. “I think we did a pretty good job [after Davis was hurt] in Kansas City.”
They did, utilizing a tremendous showing by Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor at left back and a solid game by Corey Ashe, who moved from left back to Davis' slot in midfield. Kinnear is expected to stay with his post-Davis lineup from K.C., although winger Colin Clark is close to full fitness and, the coach said, provides another option.
“For us, you can't worry about Brad because he's not playing,” Kinnear said. “You have to concentrate on the players who are available. [Davis] makes us a better team, and that should be the end of us talking about him, because he's not going to be available.”
WORTH NOTING: The most explosive comments in the news conference came from Beckham, who called FIFA president Sepp Blatter's recent remarks that downplayed racism in soccer as “appalling” and that racism “can't just be swept under the carpet and it can't just be sorted out with a handshake afterwards.” ... The Galaxy is dismissing reports that Beckham is suffering from a hamstring strain, that that's what kept him out of training Thursday, not the “cold” that Arena cited. All Beckham would say is that he's fine and that he was held out as a “precaution” by the club's “medical staff.” ... MLS's MVP award will be handed out at an HDC news conference Friday. Beckham said two weeks ago that Davis had won the award, and The Washington Post reported this week that league insiders were saying D.C. United forward Dwayne De Rosario had won. The third finalist, getting no love, is FC Dallas winger Brek Shea.